Russia-US row: Trump praises Putin amid hacking expulsions

Russian guard outside US embassy in Moscow, 29 Dec
Russia’s foreign ministry had formally proposed expelling US diplomats

US President-elect Donald Trump has praised Vladimir Putin after the Russian president ruled out a tit-for-tat response to the expulsion of diplomats in a row over hacking.

Mr Trump tweeted: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”

Mr Putin had earlier said Russia would not stoop to “irresponsible diplomacy”.

Washington expelled 35 diplomats over hacking related to the US election. Moscow denies any involvement.

Mr Trump emphasised his statement on the row by pinning his tweet to the top of his account.

It was unclear exactly what he was referring to with the term “delay”.

He has previously dismissed the hacking claims as “ridiculous” and said that Americans should “get on with our lives” when asked about the possibility of sanctions.

However, speaking before Mr Putin’s decision, Mr Trump did say he would meet US intelligence chiefs next week to be “updated on the facts of this situation”.

TweetImage copyright@REALDONALDTRUMP

His senior aide Kellyanne Conway said on Thursday: “Even those who are sympathetic to President Obama on most issues are saying that part of the reason he did this today was to quote ‘box in’ President-elect Trump.

“That would be very unfortunate if politics were the motivating factor here. We can’t help but think that’s often true.”

Standing alone? BBC’s Laura Bicker in Washington

The contrast between the words of the president and those of the president-elect could not be more stark.

Siding with a foreign adversary instead of the sitting president is a dramatic departure from normal diplomatic practice during this transition phase.

And Donald Trump may find himself alone in his admiration. President Obama has broad bipartisan support for his actions and a full hearing to discuss the hacking allegations has been scheduled in Congress next week.

Stolen emails

Under the US action:

  • Thirty-five diplomats from Russia’s Washington embassy and its consulate in San Francisco were given 72 hours to leave the US with their families
  • Two properties said to have been used by Russian intelligence services in New York and Maryland were closed
  • Sanctions were announced against nine entities and individuals including two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB

Barack Obama, who will be replaced by Donald Trump on 20 January, had vowed action against Russia amid US accusations that it directed cyber-attacks on the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Emails stolen from her campaign manager and from the servers of the Democratic National Committee – some containing embarrassing information for Democrats – were released during the election campaign.

San Francisco consulate of Russian Federation
The US expelled diplomats from here in San Francisco and from Washington

In a statement on the Kremlin website (in Russian), Mr Putin said: “We won’t be expelling anyone.

“We won’t be banning their families and children from the places where they usually spend the New Year holidays. Furthermore, I invite all children of American diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas Tree in the Kremlin.”

The Russian president wished Barack Obama and his family a happy New Year, as well as Mr Trump and “the whole American people”.

Mr Putin’s comments rebuffed his foreign ministry which had reportedly suggested expelling 31 US diplomats from Moscow and four from St Petersburg.

It also suggested banning US diplomats from their dachas (holiday homes) in Serebryany Bor near Moscow and a warehouse on Moscow’s Dorozhnaya Street.

There has been no response yet to Mr Putin’s move from the Obama administration.

However, Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, described the Russian hacking as an “act of war”.

“And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy.”

He said a lot more needed to be done in response to the hacking, with many sanctions possible.


Russia says diplomatic relations with US have been destroyed over expulsions

Russia says diplomatic relations with US have been destroyed over expulsions

Russia is considering 'retaliatory measures' against US after diplomats' expulsions
The United States has also closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland (Picture: Getty)

President Barack Obama has imposed sanctions on Russian officials and intelligence services in retaliation for Russia’s alleged interference in the US presidential election by hacking American political sites and email accounts.

However, Russia has hit back saying that it does not believe the move is legal and said that diplomatic relations between the two countries have been destroyed.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the new sanctions were a sign of Mr Obama’s ‘unpredictable and, if I may say, aggressive foreign policy’ and were aimed at undermining President-elect Donald Trump.

‘We think that such steps by a US administration that has three weeks left to work are aimed at two things: to further harm Russian-American ties, which are at a low point as it is, as well as, obviously, to deal a blow to the foreign policy plans of the incoming administration of the president-elect,’ Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

The state department has also kicked out 35 Russian diplomats from its embassy in Washington and consulate in San Francisco, giving them and their families 72 hours to leave the US.

The diplomats were declared persona non grata for acting in a “manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status”.

epa05691194 (FILE) - A file picture dated 05 September 2016 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to US President Barack Obama (R) during a meeting at the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China. The USA on 29 December 2016 have ordered Russian diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours, a sanction that is aimed to punish an alleged cyberhack into the 2016 US presidential elections. EPA/ALEXEI DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN MANDATORY CREDIT
Relations between the US and Russia are incredibly tense (Picture: EPA)

Mr Obama said Russians will no longer have access to two Russian government-owned compounds in the United States, in Maryland and in New York.

Russian officials have denied the Obama administration’s accusation that the Russian government was trying to influence the US presidential election.

US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Donald Trump win – an assessment Mr Trump has dismissed as ridiculous.

It was the strongest action the Obama administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyber attack.

‘All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,’ Mr Obama said in a statement released while he was on holiday in Hawaii.

He added: ‘Such activities have consequences.’

Mr Obama ordered sanctions against two Russian intelligence services, the GRU and the FSB, plus companies which the US says support the GRU.

The cyber security firm hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate the theft of its emails determined earlier this year the hacking came from the Fancy Bear group, believed to be affiliated with the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.

The president also sanctioned Lt Gen Korobov, the head of the GRU, and three of his deputies.

Other individuals sanctioned include Alexei Belan and Yevgeny Bogachev, two Russian nationals who have been wanted by the FBI for cyber crimes for years.

Mr Obama said the hacking ‘could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government’, a contention the US has used to suggest Russian president Vladimir Putin was personally involved.

Although the White House announced at the same time it was kicking out Russian officials and closing facilities, it said those were responses to other troubling Russian behaviour: harassment of US diplomats by Russian personnel and police.

The 35 Russian diplomats being kicked out are intelligence operatives, Mr Obama said.

The state department said they were being declared ‘persona non grata’, and they were given 72 hours to leave the country.

The two compounds being closed down are recreational facilities owned by Russia’s government, one in Maryland and one in New York, the US said.

The White House said Russia had been notified that it would be denied access to the sites starting at noon on Friday.

Russian officials have denied the Obama administration’s accusation that the Russian government was involved at the highest levels in trying to influence the US presidential election.

US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Donald Trump win – an assessment Mr Trump has dismissed as ridiculous.

The move puts the president-elect in the position of having to decide whether to roll back the measures once in office.


US election hacking: Senators call for sanctions on Russia

U.S. Senators John McCain (C), Lindsey Graham (L) and Amy Klobuchar (R) at a press conference after meeting with Latvia"s President Raimonds Vejonis in Riga, Latvia, 28 December 2016. Senior US Republican senators are meeting with heads of state and top defence officials in the Baltic states to discuss regional security and NATO plans.
The three US senators have been touring the Baltic states together

Three prominent US senators have warned that Russia and its president may face sanctions over the country’s alleged interference in last month’s presidential election.

They said the move had cross-party support in the senate.

President-elect Donald Trump has rejected claims of Russian interference.

Outgoing President Barack Obama is expected to announce retaliatory measures as early as Thursday.

These could include economic sanctions and changes to diplomatic relationships.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded in a statement: “If Washington really does take new hostile steps, they will be answered.

“Any action against Russian diplomatic missions in the US will immediately bounce back on US diplomats in Russia.”

Earlier this month, CIA officials told US media they had “high confidence” that Russian hackers had attempted to sway the US election in Mr Trump’s favour.

The Trump team responded to those reports by saying “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction”.

Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and Democrat Amy Klobuchar, voiced their support for sanctions on Wednesday while visiting the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are Nato members close to Russia’s western edge.

Mr Graham told CNN the proposed sanctions would “hit Russia hard, particularly (President) Putin as an individual.

“I would say that 99 of us (senators) believe the Russians did this and we’re going to do something about it.”

He told reporters: “Russia is trying to break the back of democracies all around the world. It is now time for Russia to understand – enough is enough.”

The EU is still sanctioning Russia over its 2014 annexation of the Crimea peninsula. The sanctions, which target Russian arms exporters, banks and individuals blamed for the pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine, have taken a heavy economic toll on Russia to date.


Argentina ex-leader Cristina Fernandez charged in corruption case

Cristina Fernandez speaks to journalists after appearing before a judge on a corruption case in Buenos Aires, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has accused current President Mauricio Macri of plotting against her

Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has been charged over corruption allegations.

A federal judge approved charges of illicit association and fraudulent administration against Ms Fernandez.

It is alleged that her government steered public contracts to a businessman close to her family.

Ms Fernandez has previously denied any wrongdoing, insisting that the accusations against her are politically motivated.

She has accused current President Mauricio Macri of plotting against her.

In a court appearance in October, Ms Fernandez presented national budget documents as part of her evidence, highlighting that the accounts had been approved by parliamentary bodies and the country’s auditor general.


Trump official Paladino under fire over crude Obama remarks

Carl Paladino. Photo: 5 December 2016
Carl Paladino unsuccessfully ran for New York governor from the Republican party in 2010

Carl Paladino, a co-chair of President-elect Donald Trump’s New York campaign, is facing a backlash over crude remarks about Barack and Michelle Obama.

Asked by a newspaper what he would most like to happen in 2017, Mr Paladino said he hoped President Obama would die from mad cow disease and the first lady would “return to being a male”.

He later said his remarks were meant to be humorous.

But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the comments were “racist” and “ugly”.

Many Twitter users also condemned Mr Paladino, with one saying there was “something deeply, horribly wrong” with him.

Meanwhile, the Parent Teacher Organisation in the city of Buffalo called on Mr Paladino to resign from its school board.

The White House has made no public comment.

‘Tough luck’

Mr Paladino, the unsuccessful Republican candidate for the post of New York governor in 2010, was asked by Buffalo’s Artvoice newspaper for his hopes for the next year.

This is Artvoice’s traditional end-of-the-year feature, where prominent local figures give their predictions.

Referring to Mr Obama, Mr Paladino said he hoped the president “catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations” with a cow and would die and be buried “in a cow pasture”.

On Mrs Obama, Mr Paladino said: “I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”

The 70-year-old businessman later said his remarks were “about a little deprecating humour which America lost for a long time”.

And he added: “Merry Christmas and tough luck if you don’t like my answer.”


FBI director under pressure to explain Clinton bombshell

FBI director under pressure to explain Clinton bombshellThe Hill FBI director under pressure to explain Clinton bombshellSix weeks since Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss in the presidential election, FBI Director James Comey is under pressure to justify the bombshell announcement that rocked the final days of the campaign.

Democrats, still smarting from the Nov. 8 loss, have lashed out at Comey as the architect of Clinton’s defeat.

“James Comey cost her the election,” former president Bill Clinton has said.

Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has accused the once-unassailable director of being a “Republican operative” who helped Donald Trump win the White House.

Now, speculation has begun to swirl that Comey will publicly address the charges of partisanship.

Several former FBI officials told The Hill they had heard Comey is now weighing a possible press appearance after Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20 to tell his side of the story.

The FBI declined to comment for this report.

Eleven days before the election, Comey shocked the political world with a letter informing Congress that investigators had discovered new emails that could be relevant to its probe, then considered completed, of Clinton’s private email server while she was secretary of State.

Comey for months passionately defended the integrity of the probe – first against Republicans when he declined to recommend charges against Clinton in the first place, and more recently against Democrats and internal critics who said that his eleventh-hour disclosure unfairly damaged Clinton.

The 6-foot-8 former prosecutor has made very few media appearances over the course of his career – he did sit for a “60 Minutes” interview in 2014 – but he has been forced into the harsh glare of camera lights throughout the past year.

He was thrust into the spotlight after Attorney General Loretta Lynch sparked outrage by meeting with Bill Clinton before the conclusion of the investigation this summer – a meeting they described as social – forcing her to announce that she would abide by whatever recommendation Comey made in the case.

Comey was then extraordinarily public with the FBI’s reasoning in declining to recommend charges against Clinton, holding a detailed press conference announcing its conclusions and later appearing before Congress in an open setting multiple times.

But he has been notably silent since his Oct. 28 letter to Congress.

Democrats, appalled by the fallout from his letter to Congress, have argued that Comey’s unprecedented disclosure in the final days leading up to the election was a massive break from bureau policy that blunted Clinton’s path to the White House. They say that although the FBI announced two days before the election that the new emails would not change its conclusions in Clinton’s case, the damage was done.

Critics hammered Comey’s vague letter for igniting a firestorm of speculation that the new emails contained a “smoking gun” – without providing any substantive information for voters to judge.

“Today’s disclosure might be worst abuse yet. DOJ goes out of its way to avoid publicly discussing investigations close to election,” former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a Twitter storm at the time. “This might be totally benign & not even involve Clinton. But no way for press or voters to know that. Easy for opponent to make hay over.”

Trump did in fact run with Comey’s announcement on the campaign trail, repeatedly telling supporters that the emails must contain something truly damning.

“I have a feeling those emails are going to be- whoa, there are going to be some beauties in there. Can you imagine? She’s been deleting all the time, deleting,” he said at a Florida rally shortly after the announcement.

Clinton herself has since told donors that she believes Comey’s disclosure, “raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, proven to be, stopped our momentum.”

It’s unclear how much of an effect the last-minute news had at the ballot box, but Trump’s narrow win in a number of battleground states and Clinton’s lead in the popular vote tally are giving fuel to those who say her loss could have been avoided.

One of Trump’s pollsters, veteran political strategist Tony Fabrizio, said just five counties made the difference: four in Florida and one in Michigan.

And post-election analysis from data guru Nate Silver and others has suggested that some voters shifted to Trump in the final weeks of the election, though he notes that the analysis is not cause-and-effect.

Comey himself was aware of the risks associated with the late October missive. In an internal memo to FBI employees, he acknowledged that “there is significant risk of being misunderstood.”

“We don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed,” Comey wrote. “I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record.”

Comey has a reputation as a fiercely independent and principled lawman – which some critics say has led him to operate outside of important institutional norms.

Others say Comey had no choice but to inform Congress of the existence of the emails – when he chose to go public with the details of the investigation’s findings over the summer, he pinned himself in a corner when the bureau realized it might have more work to do.

But throughout, Comey has been strident in his defense of probe.

“You can call us wrong, but don’t call us weasels. We are not weasels,” Comey declared during a House Judiciary Committee hearing during which Republicans suggested he had caved to political pressure from above.

“We are honest people and … whether or not you agree with the result, this was done the way you want it to be done.”

Pressure to speak out is mounting as more details have emerged about the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the new emails.

The search warrant used to go through the emails, unsealed Tuesday, confirmed that Comey delivered his letter to Congress two days before the warrant was granted – meaning that investigators didn’t yet know what was in them.

Investigators found emails they thought might be pertinent when they sorted and scanned the header information of messages stored on a laptop seized as part of its investigation of disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner.

The former New York congressman was under investigation for allegedly sending sexually explicit messages to a minor. Weiner is married to longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin, though the two are separated.

Some of the accounts used on the seized computer correlated with those used by Clinton and her aides during her tenure at Foggy Bottom – accounts that investigators had previously concluded had been used inappropriately, the newly released documents show.

The FBI told a federal judge that it believed that was sufficient to show there was probable cause that the computer contained classified information pertinent to the Clinton probe.


Donald Trump wins electoral college vote

President-elect Donald Trump addresses an audience at Crown Coliseum on December 6, 2016 in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Donald Trump is now guaranteed to be the 45th president of the United States

The US Electoral College has certified Donald Trump as president, despite a last-ditch effort to deny him the White House.

Six weeks after winning the polls, the Republican has secured the 270 votes needed to formalise his victory.

Reacting to his win, Mr Trump promised to “work hard to unite our country and be the president of all Americans”.

Electors had been flooded with emails and phone calls urging them not to support the billionaire.

The voting process is usually a formality, but was clouded this year by claims that Russian hackers tried to sway the presidential election.

Texas ultimately put the president-elect over the 270 threshold, despite two of its electors voting against him.

The New York Times reports that four Democratic electors also cast their votes for someone other than Mrs Clinton.

The result will be officially announced on 6 January in a special joint session of Congress.

Last-ditch bid to deny Trump presidency

Stallone ‘flattered’ by Trump job link

Trump could face tougher China, media warn

“I thank the American people for their overwhelming vote to elect me as their next president of the United States,” Mr Trump said in a statement after the result came in.

“With this historic step we can look forward to the bright future ahead. I will work hard to unite our country and be the president of all Americans,” he added.

Vice president-elect Mike Pence hailed his boss on Twitter, writing: “Congratulations to @realDonaldTrump; officially elected President of the United States today by the Electoral College.”

He added that he was “honored & humbled to be officially elected today as the next Vice President of the United States of America”.

‘No treason, no Trump!’

The movement to block Mr Trump had fought hard to convince Republican electors to abandon their party’s candidate.

Millions of Americans signed an online petition to that effect, while thousands of anti-Trump protesters gathered at state capitols across the country.

In Pennsylvania, over 200 demonstrators braved sub-zero temperatures, chanting, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!” and “No treason, no Trump!'”

In Maine, protesters beat drums and waved signs saying, “Don’t let Putin Pick Our President,” – a reference to allegations that Kremlin-backed hackers tried to sway the election in Mr Trump’s favour.

A protester in Los Angeles, California, on 18 December 2016
A protester in Los Angeles sends a message to the electors

Numerically, Mr Trump’s opponents never stood much chance. To keep him out of the Oval Office, 38 Republican electors would have had to defect.

Even that would probably only have delayed the inevitable.

If no candidate reaches 270 in the electoral college, the House of Representatives must vote on the next president, and the Republican-controlled chamber would most likely have chosen Mr Trump.

Grey line

How does the electoral college work?

It was set up by America’s founding fathers as a compromise between allowing Congress and the people to elect the president.

Technically, Americans cast votes on election day for electors, not the candidates themselves.

Mr Trump won the majority of these electors – 306 – although Democrat Hillary Clinton secured almost 3 million more votes from the public.

As a result, he won the election.

What is the US electoral college?

The electors are mostly elected officials or party functionaries, and are generally unknown to the public.

There are 538 in all, one for each member of Congress. A candidate needs to take at least 270 electoral votes – half of the total plus one – to win the White House.

In November’s presidential election, Mr Trump’s 306 electors came from 30 states.

Under US law, electors must formally vote for the president and vice-president before they can lead the country.

Mr Trump formally takes office on January 20.


Trump expected to be certified by US electoral college

A protester in Los Angeles, California, on 18 December 2016A protester in Los Angeles sends a message to the electors

The US electoral college is expected to certify Donald Trump as president in a vote on Monday, despite a last-minute bid to thwart the Republican.

The institution’s 538 electors, who are mostly elected officials or party functionaries, will cast their ballots at state capitols nationwide.

The vote is usually a formality, but takes place this year amid claims Russian hackers tried to sway the vote.

Mr Trump lost the popular ballot, but won through the electoral college.

Remind me, what is the electoral college?

It was set up by the country’s founding fathers as a compromise between allowing Congress and the people to elect the president.

Technically, Americans cast votes on election day for electors, not the candidates themselves.

In most cases the electors’ names are not on the ballot and most are unknown to the general public apart from one or two exceptions such as former President Bill Clinton, who is a New York elector this year.

There are 538 electors in all, one for each member of Congress. A candidate needs to take at least 270 electoral votes – half of the total plus one – to win the White House. Mr Trump won 306 electors from 30 states.

More on the electoral college

North Carolina electors are instructed about procedural matters during a rehearsal for the electoral college vote at the state capitol in Raleigh, on 18 December 2016

What are the next steps?

Under federal law, electors must gather on 19 December, with each elector casting two votes – one for president and one for vice-president.

Their so-called Certificates of Vote must be transmitted by 28 December to Congress and the National Archives in Washington.

On 6 January, US Vice-President Joe Biden will preside as Congress officially tallies the electoral votes.

Once the votes are counted, the results are final, and Mr Trump would be all set for his noon inauguration on 20 January.

Why the controversy this year?

In the 8 November presidential election, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of nearly three million, but only gained 232 electors because she lost crucial swing states. This has fuelled renewed calls for the electoral college to be scrapped, with critics arguing it is undemocratic and unfair.

Furthermore, US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee – leaking embarrassing messages about Mrs Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street and party infighting – in an attempt to put its thumb on the electoral scales for Mr Trump.

Ten electors – nine Democrats and one Republican – asked unsuccessfully for an intelligence briefing about Moscow’s alleged role.

On Sunday, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta upped the ante by suggesting the Trump team could even have colluded with Russia on the cyber-attack, which the Republican’s camp denies.

Protesters opposed to the electoral college circle the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, on 18 December 2016
Protesters opposed to the electoral college circle the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida

Who is trying to thwart Trump?

Millions of Americans who consider Mr Trump unfit to occupy the Oval Office have signed an online petition calling for Republican electors not to vote as directed by their state’s popular ballot.

Some have posted electors copies of founding father Alexander Hamilton’s writings in his Federalist Papers, which state that the meeting of the electoral college “affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications”.

A handful of Democratic electors are making a longshot bid to persuade their Republican counterparts to vote against Mr Trump.

These Democrats are so desperate to stop Mr Trump that they have even offered to vote against Hillary Clinton and unite with the other electors behind a consensus Republican candidate.

Are Trump’s electors bound to vote for him?

Nothing in the US constitution, or in federal law, requires electors to vote one way or another.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia bind their electors by law, though so-called “faithless electors” who defy the popular vote generally just face a fine.

History, however, shows that it is highly unusual for an elector to defy the expressed will of his or her state’s voters.

North Carolina electors are instructed about procedural matters during a rehearsal for the electoral college vote at the state capitol in Raleigh, on 18 December 2016

Can the electors stop Trump?

It is highly unlikely the electoral college will take the unprecedented step of changing the election’s outcome.

Thirty-eight Republican electors would have to defect to deny Mr Trump.

Even that would probably only delay the inevitable. If no candidate reaches 270 in the electoral college, the House of Representatives must vote on the next president, and the Republican-controlled chamber would most likely choose Mr Trump anyway.

Only one Republican elector, Chris Suprun of Texas, has come forward to say he will not cast his electoral vote for Mr Trump.


US hacking claims: Clinton blames Russia and FBI boss for loss

Hillary Clinton at the Children's Defense Fund's Beat the Odds Celebration at the Newseum November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC
Hillary Clinton said Russia’s actions were “an attack against our country”

Former US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has for the first time attributed her election defeat to Russian hacking.

She told party donors that President Putin had a “personal beef” against her for describing Russia’s parliamentary elections five years ago as rigged.

She also cited the release of a letter by FBI director James Comey as having lost her close races in key states.

Meanwhile, the FBI has backed a CIA assessment of Russian intervention.

In a message to employees, seen by US media, CIA Director John Brennan said he had met Mr Comey and US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and there was “strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election”.

Russia has been accused of hacking the emails of the Democratic Party and a key Hillary Clinton aide, which the Kremlin strongly denies.

The New York Times said Mrs Clinton’s comments were her first on the subject since widespread reports of the hacking surfaced before the election.

“Putin publicly blamed me for the outpouring of outrage by his own people, and that is the direct line between what he said back then and what he did in this election,” Mrs Clinton said, quoted by the Times.

“This is not just an attack on me and my campaign, although that may have added fuel to it. This is an attack against our country. We are well beyond normal political concerns here. This is about the integrity of our democracy and the security of our nation.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin. 1 Dec 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has described the US claims as “indecent”

On Friday, President Barack Obama used his last news conference of the year to defend his handling of the hacking allegations.

He said that, at the time, he did not mention any motives for the alleged hacking in order not to prejudice the integrity of the election.

On Thursday, a White House spokesman said President Vladimir Putin was involved in the cyber-attacks.

At his conference, Mr Obama said he spoke to Mr Putin during a summit in September, telling him to “cut it out” and warning of consequences if it continued – but did not say what the response might be.

The leaking of emails embarrassed the Democratic Party at a crucial point in the election campaign.

The CIA says Russia’s motivation was to sway the election in favour of Republican President-elect Donald Trump, but no evidence has been made public.

Mr Trump has also dismissed the claim as “ridiculous” and politically motivated.

18 revelations from Wikileaks emails


Trump presidency: What his new team teaches us

Donald Trump speaks at a rally in North Carolina.

As Donald Trump’s 20 January inauguration draws closer, the president-elect’s administration is starting to take shape. What does it tell us about what we can expect from the Trump presidency?

Although the incoming president has to fill more than 4,000 executive branch jobs scattered across dozens of agencies, departments and bureaus, there are only 21 high-level positions that require Senate confirmation. So far the Trump transition team has announced nominees for 15 of the spots (a 16th, interior secretary, is reportedly going to Ryan Zinke of Montana).

First, the basics. Of those 16, 11 are white men. For the first time since 1989, none of the top four departments – state, defence, treasury or justice – will be headed by a woman or a minority.

Ben Carson, tapped for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the only African American. Elaine Chao (transportation) and Nikki Haley (UN ambassador) are the only Asians.

Six have previously held elective office, and one – Ms Chao – has prior experience running a federal agency. That marks a significant change from past presidential administrations, which were well stocked with more experienced political hands.

Mr Trump’s Cabinet is a mix of rich businessmen, former military leaders and conservative true-believers. He may have campaigned as an anti-establishment outsider, but he’s mostly surrounding himself with powerful, wealthy, influential men. While many may be outsiders to the game of elective politics, they’re not exactly drawn from the ranks of the angry populist masses.

Here’s a closer look at how it all shakes out.

Captains of industry

ExxonMobil head Rex Tillerson sits at a shareholder meeting in Dallas.
Rex Tillerson hopes to move from the Exxon Mobil boardroom to White House Cabinet meetings

American voters elected a businessman with no political experience as their president, and he’s filled many of his top administration jobs with businessmen who have no political experience.

Leading the way are Rex Tillerson, who has helmed the international energy conglomerate ExxonMobil since 2006, as secretary of state, and venture capitalist and former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin for Treasury.

Other notable picks include the so-called “king of bankruptcy”, Wilbur Ross, for commerce and fast food mogul Andrew Puzder at Labor.

What we’ve learned: Mr Trump campaigned against a global elite that he said was stripping the working class of its wealth. By looking to Wall Street insiders and corporate chieftains for key administration spots, however, his post-election actions signal a decidedly different mentality.

Here come the generals

At one point during the campaign, Mr Trump quipped that he knew more about fighting the so-called Islamic State than many of the generals currently running US military operations. When it came time to fill out his national security apparatus, however, the president-elect has frequently turned to the military brass.

General James Mattis testifies before Congress
Image captionJames Mattis is a former general that Donald Trump likes

James Mattis (defence) and John Kelly (homeland security) are both retired generals, as is Michael Flynn, who Mr Trump has slated for national security adviser (a position that does not require Senate confirmation).

Taken individually, the picks are unremarkable – ex-military leaders sometimes wind up in the presidential administrations of both Democrats and Republicans. Colin Powell was George W Bush’s secretary of state, and David Petraeus ran the Central Intelligence Agency under Barack Obama.

Together, however, Mr Trump’s picks give his administration a decidedly martial bent. While he may have mocked Mr Obama’s generals, Mr Trump, who attended military school as a youth, seems inclined to favour the spit and polish of military leadership.

The military is one of the few institutions still viewed favourably by the American public, and Mr Trump seems more than happy to march along with it.

What we’ve learned: Candidate Trump often espoused a less interventionist foreign policy on the campaign trail, but President-elect Trump’s decision to surround himself with generals could indicate he will be quicker on the trigger.

The vanquished

Former presidential candidate Rick Perry once called Mr Trump a cancer on the Republican Party. Ben Carson, another primary opponent, questioned the business mogul’s religious faith. Now Mr Trump has chosen both to head Cabinet departments in his administration.

Donald Trump and Ben Carson slap hands at a presidential debate.
Donald Trump has named Ben Carson to his presidential team

There’s a certain amount of irony in Mr Perry’s selection, given that he is slotted to head the Department of Energy, which he famously forgot the name of when listing Cabinet-level posts he’d cut during a 2008 Republican primary debate.

Although Mr Trump has only named two former adversaries to his administration, he’s also rumoured to be considering former computer executive Carly Fiorina for an intelligence agency post. Then there’s New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was reportedly offered several Cabinet-level positions after being passed over for attorney general.

He’s a foe-turned-friend who now, it seems, has been forgotten.

What we’ve learned: Facing off against Mr Trump in the past isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for the president-elect, but a subsequent bent knee – offered both by Mr Carson and Mr Perry – is a key to bygones being bygones.

Read more about:

Congressman Tom Price presides over a House Budget Committee hearing.
Tom Price, chair of the House Budget Committee, is a Washington power player

The insiders

According to a recent story in Politico, Mr Trump’s transition team has been beset by conflicts between establishment party players, led by incoming chief-of-staff Reince Priebus, and the conservative outsiders who helped run the Trump campaign.

In a number of Cabinet positions, it appears the establishment landed the people they wanted. Tom Price, slated for Health and Human Services, is a member of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives. Betsy DeVos, heading to education, is a long-time conservative activist and Republican Party donor. Elaine Chao served as labour secretary under President George W Bush and is married to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, considered a party rising star, is the nominee for US ambassador to the United Nations.

Given that Mr Trump is likely to be a hands-off president when it comes to the day-to-day management of his administration, department heads will wield considerable power over the next four years.

While the president-elect has said there are portions of Barack Obama’s healthcare reform that he likes, for instance, chances are Mr Price will use his health secretary authority to strip the programme of much of its power. While he may sit down with former Vice-President Al Gore to talk climate change, his Environmental Protection Agency nominee, Scott Pruitt, is an outspoken critic – and legal opponent – of the agency he will head.

What we’ve learned: Mr Trump railed against the political establishment on the campaign trail, but some of his nominees are very comfortable in the Washington “swamp”. The tension between the insiders and the outsiders in the Trump transition team is likely to continue well into his presidency.

Read more about:

The loyalists

The first Trump Cabinet nominee to be announced, Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general, was also one of the first national politicians to endorse the New Yorker’s presidential campaign.

Donald Trump receives the endorsement of Senator Jeff Sessions at a rally in August 2015.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions took a chance on Donald Trump – and was rewarded for it

Several high-profile Trump political donors and advisers also were handed top positions, including Mr Mnuchin, Mr Ross and Mr Puzder. Linda McMahon, who gave more than $7m to the Trump campaign and affiliated political groups, is his pick to head the Small Business Administration. (She is also the largest donor to the Trump family’s charitable foundation.)

Another Trump donor, Todd Ricketts, has landed a deputy position in the Commerce Department.

Meanwhile, some early, outspoken Trump advocates were passed over for plum positions – including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. They emerged from the political graveyard to take an early gamble on Mr Trump, but they have yet to be rewarded for their efforts.

What we’ve learned: While fiery speeches and television appearances are nice, one of the quickest ways to Mr Trump’s corridors of power appears to be with an open chequebook.

Read more about:

A graphic showing the make-up of Donald Trump's cabinet