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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin supervised his intelligence agencies’ hacking of the U.S. presidential election and turned it from a general effort to discredit the process to a specific attempt to support Donald Trump, three U.S. officials said on Thursday.

Accusations that Russia tried to influence the election by hacking people and institutions, including Democratic Party bodies, has angered President-elect Trump who says he won the Nov. 8 vote fairly. Russian officials have denied all accusations of interference in the U.S. election.

But the U.S. officials said on the condition of anonymity that the U.S. intelligence community is confident its assessment of Russian cyber attacks on the election is accurate.

“This began merely as an effort to show that American democracy is no more credible than Putin’s version is,” one of the officials said.

“It gradually evolved from that to publicizing (Hillary) Clinton’s shortcomings and ignoring the products of hacking Republican institutions, which the Russians also did,” the official said.

By the fall, the official said, it became an effort to help Trump’s campaign because “Putin believed he would be much friendlier to Russia, especially on the matter of economic sanctions” than Democratic rival Clinton.

NBC reported earlier that U.S. intelligence officials have “a high level of confidence” Putin was personally involved in the Russian cyber campaign against the United States.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state TV channel Rossiya-24 that he was “dumbstruck” by the NBC report.

“I think this is just silly, and the futility of the attempt to convince somebody of this is absolutely obvious,” he said.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, has brushed off reports of Russian hacking of U.S. political institutions.

“If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter on Thursday.

When asked about the NBC report, Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller said:

“I’ll let the president-elect’s tweets speak for themselves. But I’d say the continued efforts to try to delegitimize the election. . .at a certain point, you’ve got to realize the election from last month has got to stand.”

PUTIN ROLE?

In October, the U.S. government formally accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against U.S. political organizations ahead of the election. Obama said he warned Putin about consequences and last week ordered a review by the U.S. intelligence agencies.

Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security advisor, told MSNBC on Thursday: “I don’t think things happen in the Russian government of this consequence without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.”

The three U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters said the fact Putin was in charge was not surprising and standard operating procedure.

“If anything, given his background as a KGB officer, Putin has a much tighter grip on all Russian intelligence operations, civilian and military, foreign and domestic, than any democratic leader does,” one official said.

A senior U.S. official said last week that the CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win the White House, and not just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.

The reports of Russian hacking have raised concerns among both political parties in Congress, with top Republicans breaking with Trump to call for closer scrutiny.

Some Republican lawmakers have also questioned Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has close business ties to the Russian government.

(Reporting by Washington newsroom and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: Russian President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to Germany’s Bild newspaper at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin

Blake Neff

Twitter screenshot

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

On July 10, CNN's Oliver Darcy reported that Blake Neff, the top writer for Tucker Carlson's prime-time Fox News show, had been anonymously posting racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and other offensive content on an online forum for five years. Neff used racist and homophobic slurs, referred to women in a derogatory manner, and pushed white supremacist content while writing for Carlson's show. Neff resigned after CNN contacted him for comment.

As Darcy reported, in an interview with the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Neff claimed anything Carlson read during his show was initially drafted by him. Darcy also found instances where there was "some overlap between the forum and the show," as sometimes the "material Neff encountered on the forum found its way on to Carlson's show."

During a 2018 appearance on Fox's The Five to promote his book Ship of Fools, Carlson mentioned Neff by name, calling him a "wonderful writer." Carlson also included Neff in the acknowledgments of the book.


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Before joining Fox News, Neff worked at The Daily Caller, a conservative news outlet that Carlson co-founded. The outlet has published a number of white supremacists, anti-Semites, and bigots.


Carlson has a long history of promoting white supremacist content on his show. His show has featured many guests who have connections to white supremacy and far-right extremism. Carlson has regularly been praised by Neo-Nazis and various far-right extremist figures, and he's been a hero on many white supremacist podcasts. Users of the extremist online message boards 4chan and 8chan have repeatedly praised Carlson.

The manifesto released by the gunman who killed 20 people in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 was strewn with content that echoed talking points from Carlson's show. Days after the shooting, Carlson declared that calling white supremacy a serious issue is a "hoax" as it is "actually not a real problem in America."

Carlson has been hemorrhaging advertisers following his racist coverage of the Black Lives Matters movement and the recent protests against police brutality. Now that we know his top writer was using content from white supremacist online message boards for Carlson's show, it is more imperative than ever that advertisers distance their brands away from this toxicity.