After months of denying there was any Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that “patriotic” hackers could have taken it upon themselves to intervene — though not at the behest of the Kremlin.
“Hackers get up in the morning and read the news about international affairs,” Putin told reporters in St. Petersburg Thursday. “If they feel patriotic, they try to make what they see as a fair contribution to the struggle against those who speak ill of Russia.”
After the Democratic National Committee was hacked, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails in July 2016, three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention. Both the U.S. intelligence community and the White House subsequently said they believed Russia was responsible; former CIA Director John Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee last month that Russia “brazenly interfered” in the election.
Putin’s cryptic comments on Thursday — he also compared hackers to painters — may have represented a subtle shift, but he also said he believed “hackers can’t crucially influence an election in a foreign country. No information will change the minds of a foreign people and the outcome [of an election].”
Last September, however, he seemed to think somewhat differently about the effect information could have on an electorate.
“Does it even matter who hacked this data?” he said at the time. “The important thing is the content that was given to the public.”