The news last week made clear that the latest cyberattack against the United States was far more severe, both in its scope and its severity, than the usual intrusion. As NBC News reported, "Hackers who targeted the federal government appear to be part of a Russian intelligence campaign aimed at multiple U.S. agencies and companies."
Soon after, one of the senators who classified briefing on the matter said he was "downright scared" of what he'd learned. Another added that the hack was "virtually a declaration of war by Russia on the United States."
On Friday, White House officials were prepared to issue a formal statement accusing Russia of being "the main actor" in the cyberattack, but the Associated Press reported that these officials "were told at the last minute to stand down."
Similarly, the same day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly acknowledged that the hack was "pretty clearly" tied to Russia. A day later, Donald Trump contradicted his own cabinet secretary and downplayed the significance of Moscow's apparent efforts.
President Donald Trump on Saturday downplayed the hacking campaign that has torn through U.S. government agencies and businesses that experts believe is the work of Russian intelligence, deflecting blame away from Russia and suggesting Chinese involvement while contradicting top officials in his own administration.
In a weird Twitter thread, the outgoing Republican president wrote, "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. 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!)."
In the same tweets, which were specifically directed at Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, Trump added some tangential nonsense, ridiculously trying to connect the hack to voting machines and the 2020 presidential election, which he is pretending he "obviously" won "big."
This was, incidentally, the first -- and so far, only -- response from the Oval Office to the systemic cyberattack.
The context is extraordinary: while much of the federal government is acting as if the United States just suffered a dramatic attack from a foreign adversary, there's Donald Trump, effectively covering for his Russian benefactors, trying to shift the blame, and hysterically trying to connect the disaster to his unhinged election grievances.
There's also a degree of irony in the symmetry: Trump's presidency began with a Russian operation against the United States. It was an attack that the Republican downplayed, lied about, and felt no need to respond to.
Four years later, Trump's presidency is ending, tragically, the exact same way.
Postscript: The Republican's tweet was published on Saturday morning. Just eight minutes earlier, the Kremlin published a tweet of its own, noting Putin's visit to Foreign Intelligence Service headquarters, where the Russian president "congratulated security agency personnel."