MUNICH — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said Saturday there was "incontrovertible" evidence of a Russian plot to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election, a blunt statement that shows how significantly the new criminal charges leveled by an American investigator have upended the political debate over his inquiry.
The statement by H.R. McMaster at the Munich Security Conference stood in stark contrast to Trump’s oft repeated claim that Russian interference in his election victory was a hoax.
"As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain," McMaster told a Russian delegate to the conference.
The detailed document presented the most compelling public evidence to date that the Russian operation was elaborate, expensive and real. Citing emails and conversations by the perpetrators of the plot, it also demonstrated that the ongoing probe may have access to explosive intelligence material gathered on the Russian operations.
McMaster also noted that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team had shown that the United States was becoming "more and more adept at tracing the origins of this espionage and subversion."
Just minutes before, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had dismissed the indictment as "just blabber."
"I have no response," Lavrov said when asked for comment on the allegations. "You can publish anything, and we see those indictments multiplying, the statements multiplying."
But Lavrov did not say what he specifically disputed in the indictment.
McMaster and Lavrov addressed the annual conference of world leaders, defense officials and diplomats, giving more general back-to-back opening remarks. But both were immediately hit with questions about the U.S. indictment and the broader issue of cyberattacks.
In Russia, news of the indictment was met with more scorn.
"There are no official claims, there is no proof for this. That’s why they are just children’s statements," Andrei Kutskikh, the presidential envoy for international information security, told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
McMaster also scoffed at the suggestion that the United States would work with Russia on cyber security issues.
"I’m surprised there are any Russian cyber experts available based on how active most of them have been undermining our democracies in the West," he said to laughter. "So I would just say that we would love to have a cyber dialogue when Russia is sincere."
The indictment charged 13 Russians with running a huge but hidden social media trolling campaign combined with on-the-ground politicking aimed in part at helping Trump defeat his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.