Russia Denies 'Baseless' SolarWinds Claims as Trump Administration Divided on Hack

The Kremlin has officially denied that Russia was behind the SolarWinds cyberattack that penetrated multiple U.S. federal agencies and could yet prove to be the worst ever hack in American history.

Unnamed intelligence officials were quick to blame Russia for the operation when news of it broke earlier this month and the government scrambled to establish just how badly compromised sensitive agencies had been.

President Donald Trump's administration has been slow to apportion blame, but officials appear largely united in their belief that it was Russian backed hackers who have been snooping on internal agency communications for months, perhaps as far back as March.

Trump, however, has refused to blame Moscow, instead suggesting China may have been behind the attack. With just weeks of his presidency remaining, another Russia crisis has exposed deep divisions between the president and his intelligence and foreign affairs teams.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said unequivocally on Monday that Moscow was not involved in the SolarWinds hack, telling Russia's state-run Tass news agency: "Russia is not involved in such attacks, namely this one. We state this officially and firmly."

Peskov added that "any accusations of Russia's involvement are absolutely baseless, they are more likely to be a continuation of blind Russophobia that is resorted to in case of any incident."

Russian officials habitually accuse their rivals of Russophobia to dodge criticism of the foreign meddling and military deployments that have left Moscow under broad international sanctions.

In a pair of tweets Saturday, Trump played down the severity of the SolarWinds attack and shifted focus from Russia to China.

The president has repeatedly tried to avoid any hint of Russian meddling in U.S. politics, fearing acknowledging such influence would undermine his presidency given the Kremlin's efforts to denigrate Trump's opponents.

Trump has also repeatedly accused China of meddling in U.S. politics and claimed that his opponents, including President-elect Joe Biden, are being supported by Beijing.

"The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control," Trump wrote Saturday, breaking with briefings from anonymous intelligence officials and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that underscored the severity of the breach.

"Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!)," the president added.

"There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA," Trump wrote, tying the attack in with his baseless conspiracy theories claiming that Biden won last month's election through fraud.

Trump tagged Pompeo in the tweet. Pompeo has traditionally been one of Trump's closest allies and has toed the line throughout his presidency.

After the election, Pompeo even assured journalists that there would be a "smooth transition to a second Trump administration" despite the incumbent's clear defeat.

Pompeo told CNN Friday: "I think it's the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity."

American intelligence and law enforcement agencies have publicly been quiet on the source of the hack. The FBI, CISA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint statement Wednesday acknowledging that there had been a "significant and ongoing cybersecurity campaign."

But anonymous officials have been clear that Russia is the target of the ongoing investigation, which is broadening as more and more agencies are found to have been compromised.

An unnamed U.S. official familiar with the situation told the Associated Press that the White House was prepared to release a statement Friday pinning Russia as "the main actor" in the attack, but were told to stand down at the last moment.

"This is looking like it's the worst hacking case in the history of America," the official said.

Initial reports by Reuters cited multiple officials who accused Russian backed hackers of involvement. The hackers are believed to have accessed federal systems by hiding malicious code inside SolarWinds software updates.

The company told Newsweek that the breach is thought to have occurred between March and June 2020, with attackers gaining access via updates to the company's Orion monitoring products.

A spokesperson would not confirm whether clients including the Pentagon, NSA, and White House were also breached, citing the ongoing federal investigation.

Moscow, Russia seen after solarwinds cyber attack
This file photo shows the Kremlin and skyscrapers of the Moscow International Business Center in Moscow, Russia on December 17, 2020. YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images/Getty