The White House has suggested President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in a covert Russian mission to intervene in the 2016 US presidential election.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Thursday that he shared the view of US intelligence officials, reported by NBC News, that Putin played a direct role in the hacking operation aimed at interfering with the US election.
Earnest stated that it was “pretty obvious” that Putin was involved, dramatically upping the ante in a dispute between the Obama administration and the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that the Russian president maintains tight control on government operations.
“I don’t think things happen in the Russian government of this consequence without Vladimir Putin knowing about it,” said Rhodes.
“Everything we know about how Russia operates and how Putin controls that government would suggest that, again, when you’re talking about a significant cyber intrusion like this, we’re talking about the highest levels of government,” he told MSNBC television.
“And ultimately, Vladimir Putin is the official responsible for the actions of the Russian government,” he stated.
US intelligence officials believe with “a high level of confidence” that Putin became involved in hacking during the American election campaign as part of a “vendetta” against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, NBC News reported on Wednesday.
The anonymous officials, purportedly having direct access to the information, told the news network that Putin personally instructed how material hacked from US Democratic lawmakers was leaked and otherwise used.
The officials argued that the Russian president was not only seeking a “vendetta” against Clinton but also wanted to expose massive corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the US to be a credible global leader anymore.”
In 2011, Clinton – then US secretary of state – publicly challenged the integrity of the Russian parliamentary elections, and reportedly attempted to incite street protests against the government of Putin. The American officials claimed that the Russian leader has never forgiven Clinton over these anti-Russian moves.