Biden blasts Trump over cyberattack: “This assault happened on Donald Trump's watch”

Washington — President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday slammed the Trump administration for failing to protect the federal government from cyberattacks, effectively allowing a massive hack targeting several agencies to go undetected for months.

“The truth is this: The Trump administration failed to prioritize cybersecurity,” Mr. Biden said of the cyberattack involving a software product offered by the company SolarWinds. “It did that from eliminating or downgrading cyber coordinators in both the White House and at the State Department, to firing the director of [the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency], to President Trump’s irrational downplaying of the seriousness of this attack.”

The perpetrators of the breach, believed to be Russian hackers, infiltrated computer networks through a popular software product from SolarWinds, a Texas-based company with thousands of customers. Several government agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, State and Energy, said they were among the victims of the hack, though the full scope and damage done remain unclear.

SolarWinds has said an “outside nation state” was behind the breach, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told conservative radio host Mark Levin last week that “we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.” But on Saturday, Mr. Trump suggested on Twitter that China could be behind the cyber campaign and accusing the media of blowing the breach out of proportion.

Mr. Biden said “initial indications” suggest Russia is behind the attack, which he said “constitutes a grave risk to our national security” and has been in the works since late 2019.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “In an age when so much of our lives are documented online, cyberattacks must be treated as a serious threat by our leadership.”

Mr. Biden said “we can’t let this go unanswered,” but warned he does not believe the breach is under control yet.

“This assault happened on Donald Trump’s watch when he wasn’t watching,” he continued. “It’s still his responsibility as president to defend American interests for the next four weeks. But rest assured, even if he does not take it seriously, I will.”

The president-elect spoke from Wilmington, Delaware, which has served as the hub for his transition team as they prepare to take the helm of the federal government on January 20. In the weeks since the presidential election, Mr. Biden has rolled out a slew of nominees who will serve in his Cabinet if confirmed by the Senate, as well as key advisers who will work alongside him in the White House.

The president-elect said he intends to make more announcements on who will serve in his administration this week.

The Christmas and New Years holidays will bring a close to a difficult year for the nation, as the coronavirus claimed the lives of more than 321,000 people and wreaked havoc on the economy. A record 115,351 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and deaths are rising in 19 states, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

But the country’s fight against the pandemic entered a new phase this month, as the Food and Drug Administration authorized two coronavirus vaccines, one from Pfizer and one from Moderna, for emergency use. Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities were the first to receive their initial doses of the coronavirus vaccines, and an advisory panel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending elderly Americans and front-line workers be next in line to get vaccinated.

Mr. Biden received his first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine at a hospital in Newark, Delaware, on Monday, and the nation’s top health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, received Moderna’s vaccine Tuesday. Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence got their shots Friday.

Congress on Monday approved a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill as part of a mammoth package that provides much-needed aid to American workers, small businesses and industries grappling with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Biden praised lawmakers from both parties and in both chambers for coming together to craft and pass the relief measure, but said additional action from Congress is needed.

“This bill is just the first step, a down payment, in addressing the crisis, the crises, more than one, that we’re in,” he said. “There’s a lot more work to do.”

The president-elect said he intends to put forth an economic relief plan that calls for more funding for vaccine distribution, provides more aid for jobless Americans, extends a moratorium on evictions, ensures small businesses and frontline workers have access to personal protective equipment, and develops infrastructure to jumpstart the economy.

“Congress did its job this week, and I can and I must ask them to do it again next year,” he said.

Mr. Biden encouraged the American people to exercise patience and determination in defeating the pandemic, including by foregoing their typical holiday gatherings, as infections continue to rise and the death toll increases.

“I’m going to tell it to you straight, I’m going to tell you the truth, and here is the simple truth: 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,” he said.