Mitt Romney Accuses Trump of Having 'Blind Spot' When It Comes to Russia

Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, accused President Donald Trump of having a "blind spot" when it comes to Russia after the command-in-chief downplayed the threat of an alleged Russian hack targeting top federal agencies.

Trump on Saturday tweeted about the SolarWinds software hack, which compromised federal agencies including the departments of Treasury, Homeland Security, Commerce and others, suggesting that the seriousness of the breach had been overhyped by the media. He also called into question the consensus that Russia was behind the cyberattack, suggesting that it could have been carried out by China instead.

"I was disappointed with the president's comment. But I think we've come to recognize that the president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia," Romney told NBC News' Meet the Press on Sunday when he was asked about Trump's remarks.

Putin and Trump
President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017. Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, said Sunday that Trump has a "blind spot" when it comes to Russia after the president downplayed the SolarWinds cyberattack. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top GOP lawmakers have placed the blame squarely on Moscow's shoulders. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

"The reality here is that the experts, the people who really understand how our systems work and how computers work and software and so forth, the thousands upon thousands at the CIA and the NSA and the Department of Defense, have determined that this came from Russia," the Republican senator said. Romney described the cyber invasion as "extraordinary," pointing out that the alleged Russian hackers "basically have the capacity to know what we're doing."

"They even got into the agency that's responsible for our nuclear capacities, for our research with regards to nuclear weaponry. This is an extraordinarily damaging invasion and it went on for a long, long time," the GOP lawmaker said.

News of the cyberattack broke last Sunday, when it was reported that hackers had managed to install malware in an update of SolarWinds Orion software. SolarWinds has said that about 18,000 clients—including government agencies and hundreds of Fortune 500 companies—downloaded the update, potentially compromising their computer systems. The scope of the breach and its implications remain under investigation, but the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS has warned that the hack poses a "grave risk" to the U.S. government.

Trump has consistently downplayed concerns about Russia, and the first two years of the president's tenure in the White House were largely overshadowed by an investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mueller, along with other U.S. intelligence agencies, concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Trump. However, the special counsel did not find evidence to show that Trump or his campaign officials had conspired with Russia.

Regardless of Mueller's conclusions, Democrats—and some Republicans—have repeatedly raised concerns about the president's willingness to defend Russia, and in particular Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump has repeatedly expressed frustration when confronted with Russia's malign activity and has insisted that his administration has been exceptionally tough in response to the U.S. rival.

Mitt Romney
Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Sunday accused President Donald Trump of having a "blind spot" when it comes to Russia. Here he speaks alongside a bipartisan group of Democrat and Republican members of Congress on December 14 in Washington, D.C. Tasos Katopodis/Getty

Despite Trump's effort to downplay the threat of the Russian hack and cast doubt on Russia's involvement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top GOP lawmakers have placed the blame squarely on Moscow's shoulders.

"This was a very significant effort, and I think it's the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity," Pompeo told The Mark Levin Show on Friday.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, also blamed Russia for the cyberattack.

"Increasingly clear that Russian intelligence conducted the gravest cyber intrusion in our history," Rubio tweeted on Saturday. "The process of determining its extent & assessing the damage is underway. Remediation will take time & significant resources. Our response must be proportional but significant."

Reuters reported on Sunday that President-elect Joe Biden's transition team is already weighing how to respond to Russia in the wake of the hack. Options on the table include further financial sanctions targeting Moscow or even a cyberattack targeting Russian infrastructure.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment but did not immediately receive a response.