Joe Biden called on Donald Trump to identify the perpetrator of a large-scale cyber attack on the US government and said the most likely culprit was Russia as he criticised the president for not sharing national security intelligence with his transition team.
With less than a month to go until he is inaugurated, Mr Biden used a speech in Delaware on Tuesday to hit out at Mr Trump over his handling of the hack in one of his most pointed attacks on the president since winning the election.
“We can’t let this go unanswered,” Mr Biden, the president-elect, said as he warned that it could cost billions of dollars to protect US cyber space. “That means making clear, and publicly, who was responsible for the attacks, and taking meaningful steps to hold them in account.”
He added: “There is still so much that we don’t know, including the full scope of the breach, or the extent of the damage it has caused. But we know this much: this attack constitutes a grave risk for our national security.”
Mr Biden said initial indications suggested that Russia was to blame for the attack, pointing to remarks from Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, and William Barr, outgoing attorney-general, who have said Moscow was likely the culprit.
“It certainly fits Russia’s long history of reckless, disruptive cyber activities,” he added. “But the Trump administration needs to make an official attribution. This assault happened on Donald’s Trump watch.”
The hackers gained access to several big companies and federal government agencies, as well the US commerce and energy departments, by hijacking software from SolarWinds, a Texas-based IT company. SolarWinds said last week that 18,000 of its government and business clients globally may have been exposed.
Mr Trump at the weekend sought to play down the severity of the sweeping cyber attack, saying on Twitter that the hack was “far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality”.
The president also suggested that China, rather than Russia was behind the attack, tweeting: “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!)”
Mr Biden called on the White House to “co-operate fully” and “share information” on the attack with his transition team, adding this was something the Trump administration “haven’t been doing”.
Mr Trump and his closest allies have refused to concede that Mr Biden won the November 3 presidential election, even after the Electoral College formally selected the former vice-president as the president-elect last week. Mr Biden is set to be inaugurated on January 20.
The president, who has made few public appearances since Election Day, earlier on Tuesday tweeted: “THE DEMOCRATS DUMPED HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF BALLOTS IN THE SWING STATES LATE IN THE EVENING. IT WAS A RIGGED ELECTION!!!”
Mr Biden also used Tuesday’s speech to call on Congress to pass another economic stimulus bill in the new year as he warned that the “darkest days” of the coronavirus pandemic were still to come.
He praised lawmakers for passing a nearly $900bn economic relief bill on Monday night, describing it as a “first glimpse of bipartisanship” while saying there was a “lot more work to do”.
Mr Biden said he would introduce his own economic relief legislation next year that would include more federal funding for vaccine distribution, cash-strapped state and local governments, and the tens of millions of Americans who have lost their jobs.
“I’m going to tell it to you straight,” Mr Biden said. “Our darkest days in the battle against Covid are ahead of us, not behind us. So we need to prepare ourselves, to steel our spines, as frustrating it is to hear. It is going to take patience, persistence and determination to beat this virus.”