Putin insists Russian government not involved in U.S. election hacking

WASHINGTON -- On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin came as close as he ever has to acknowledging Russian hacking, but he insisted that the Russian government was not involved in hacking the U.S. presidential election. 

For the first time, he acknowledged that individual Russian hackers who are "patriotically minded" may have participated in what they believed was "the good fight against those who speak badly about Russia." 

U.S. Intelligence agencies disagree. They have concluded Putin's government is behind the election hacking and disinformation campaign. 

Bret Padres is a cybersecurity expert who has consulted for the CIA. 

"He's trying to create some plausible deniability," Padres said. "I think he might be concerned about some evidence that will be disclosed and he sort of wants to distance himself from those that might have been involved." 

The Obama administration was convinced of Russian interference soon after the election and retaliated. It expelled 35 Russian diplomats and seized Russian compounds in New York and Maryland. At the time, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was surprised the Russians didn't respond. 

The FBI's counterintelligence investigation is trying to determine whether the Russians were given assurances by people associated with President Trump. 

For his part, Putin called Mr. Trump a "straightforward" and "frank" person on Thursday. He said the hacking allegations are a plot to "create an atmosphere" that makes it "impossible to solve some common problems."

Those problems include the two compounds in New York and Maryland, which of course the Russians want back. The Trump administration and the Russian government are now discussing the possibility of their return.