Reince Priebus
Reince Priebus described the Democratic National Committee as a 'sitting duck' for Russian hackers Joe Skipper/ Reuters

Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff for Donald Trump's administration, said in an interview on Sunday (8 December) that the president-elect "accepts" that Russia had a role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Alleged Russian attempts to influence the recent US election have been a headline story for the last month, with intelligence services and the incoming Trump administration seemingly at loggerheads over what had happened.

In previous interviews, Trump and his spokespeople had often called into question the US intelligence community's analysis that individuals backed by the Russian state attempted to tilt the US election in Trump's favour.

Priebus told Fox News Sunday that the president-elect "accepts the fact that this particular case was entities in Russia". He did not comment on whether or not Trump believes the hacking was directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After a briefing with intelligence leaders on Friday (6 January), Trump released a statement which acknowledged Russian attempts to hack US government institutions, but adamantly denied that there was any effect on the election and its results.

He said: "While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organisations, including the Democratic National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election, including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines."

The statement also alluded to a new line that Trump and his spokespeople are taking in the hacking saga, putting the blame on Democrats not being well versed enough in cyber-security: "There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defences and the hackers were unsuccessful."

During the Fox interview, Priebus said the DNC was a "sitting duck". "They lacked defences. They lacked training. They allowed foreign governments into their system," he said.

Rex Tillerson
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson look on at a signing ceremony in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in August 2011 Alexsey Druginyn/Reuters

On 6 January, the president-elect tweeted that "only 'stupid' people, or fools" would think it was a bad idea to have a good relationship with Russia. Trump's views towards Russia and Putin have been brought into the spotlight numerous times since his election, not least with his nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.

Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, is thought to have a close business and personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. In 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, a Russian state award given to foreign nationals whose work is thought to have bettered relations with Russia.

Hacking the US election

Allegations that Russia hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee first came in October, but it was a leaked report from the CIA in early December that said the hacking had a purpose: to help Trump win the election.

The emails of Hillary Clinton's campaign chief, John Podesta, were released in two batches by the website Wikileaks and seemed timed to try and disrupt the Democratic nominee's campaign – first at the Democratic National Convention, drawing the ire of Bernie Sander's supporters, then just two days before the election itself.

John Podesta
Campaign chairman John Podesta watches from the edge of the stage during a campaign rally with US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (not pictured) at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in November 2016 Reuters/Brian Snyder

President-elect Donald Trump and his team had been defiant at the findings, calling them "ridiculous" in interviews, but that tone changed into January. Trump is now said to accept the findings that Russia was involved, but denies that there was any effect on the election itself – instead pointing blame at the Democrat's bad cybersecurity.

After some deliberation, the US intelligence community have had their final word. In a report released on 6 January, they said that not only do they believe Russia wanted to influence the electon in Trump's favour, but the order came from Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.

President Obama has already retaliated, expelling 35 Russian diplomats from America and closing two Russian compounds while adding that they were not "the sum total of our response to Russia's aggressive activities."