Trump sides with Assange, Russia over US intelligence – Politico
President-elect Donald Trump is freshly questioning U.S. intelligence assessments of election-season hacking, appearing to side instead with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Russia in comments that are rattling the American spy world as well as many of his fellow Republicans.
The billionaire real estate mogul late Tuesday and early Wednesday used Twitter to once again cast doubt on intelligence community deductions that Russian government-affiliated entities tried to tip November’s election in Trump’s favor by hacking into the Democratic National Committee and the private email of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
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In one tweet, Trump expressed suspicion about a supposed delay in an intelligence briefing he was due to receive about the suspected Russian interference.
“The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!” Trump tweeted.
A U.S. official immediately fired back, insisting the briefing had always been set for Friday.
In a separate tweet, Trump noted that Assange has “said Russians did not give him” leaked emails from the DNC and other prominent U.S. political leaders. Trump also pointed out that Assange, who is holed up in Ecuador’s Embassy in London to avoid sex assault charges in Sweden, said “a 14 year old” could have been the hacker.
Trump is deeply averse to the notion that his victory on Nov. 8 was tainted. His tweets are just the latest of several statements he’s made on Twitter, in interviews or other forums underscoring his intense skepticism about the U.S. intelligence community’s work on Russia. The latest tweets added to the discomfort in the national security circles as well as top Republicans about Trump’s seeming disdain for America’s intelligence officers, as well as his fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he’s often praised.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking on the Hugh Hewitt radio show on Wednesday, tried to dodge questions about Trump’s tweets, suggesting that perhaps once the president-elect is briefed on the Russia hacking he will be “better informed.” Ryan did, however, knock Assange. “I think the guy’s a sycophant for Russia. He leaks, he steals data and compromises national security,” the Republican leader said.
South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham expressed similar sentiments, calling it “disturbing” that Trump would side with Assange over the intelligence community.
But Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was visiting Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning, defended Trump. Pence said that “intelligence failures of recent years” are the reason Trump has questioned assessments about Russian hacking to interfere with the presidential election.
“I think that the president-elect has expressed his very sincere and healthy American skepticism about intelligence conclusions,” the vice president-elect said at a press conference alongside House Republican leaders at the Capitol.
In the next few days, intelligence agencies are expected to give President Barack Obama a report laying out the evidence they’ve gathered about how the Kremlin, either directly or through proxies, interfered in the election using cyber-attacks and other means. Trump is to receive a briefing on the same report after Obama, and a public version of the report will also be released in the coming days.
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer on Wednesday tried to clarify Trump’s tweets, saying he was not referring to the originally scheduled Friday session, during which the head officials of the CIA, FBI and the director of national intelligence are due to brief Trump about Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign.
“Last week the president-elect’s team asked for an update that would occur early this week with respect to that subject,” Spicer told reporters on a conference call. “We were later asked to postpone that briefing because the final report that the intelligence community is going to issue is not going to be finalized until later this week and they asked that we defer that briefing until they had had the report finalized.”
Regardless of his intentions, Trump’s tweets left the impression that he was once again mocking U.S. intelligence officials. And while it’s not unprecedented, or even wrong, for a U.S. leader to view intelligence assessments with a skeptical eye, what’s shocked many observers is how public Trump has been about his disregard for a group of people who often risk their lives for the country.
Democrats pounced on Trump’s latest comments.
“Trump slams intelligence community again, puts confidence in accused sex offender who published millions of State Dept docs at US peril. Wow,” wrote Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
“Our president-elect is putting his own insecurities ahead of national security because he is sensitive about how he won,” said Adrienne Watson, national press secretary of the Democratic National Committee, which was one of the targets of the cyber-attacks in 2016.
So far, Trump has refused to accept the assessment of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the election meddling. “I also know things that other people don’t know” when it comes to the cyber-attacks, Trump claimed in recent days, setting off another round of speculation about his own ties to the Kremlin.
It’s not exactly clear what links WikiLeaks has, if any, to the Russian government, but the information the group revealed during the 2016 campaign was almost exclusively damaging to the Democrats and their presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Many in the U.S. national security establishment despise the activist outfit for its unveiling of American secrets, often presented through caches of emails by government officials. One of its most famous revelations involved huge troves of cables generated by State Department diplomats. But many on the left view Assange — as well as National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden — with a measure of admiration for revealing the truth about some of the inner workings of the U.S. government.
Trump’s victory has led to a startling shift in some parts of the conservative world on both the issue of WikiLeaks and Russia. Whereas many Republicans have been and still are hawkish on Russia, some on the right, such as the Heritage Foundation think tank, are pointing to Putin’s decisive leadership as a model to emulate, even though they don’t all go so far as to align themselves with Russia.
Fox News’ Sean Hannity, a conservative stalwart who once called for Assange to be arrested, recently interviewed the WikiLeaks founder for a show that aired Tuesday night, giving him a platform many on the right would have previously found unacceptable. Assange insisted to Hannity that the emails WikiLeaks released were not provided by “a state party.”
Afterward, Sarah Palin, the former GOP vice presidential candidate issued a Facebook post in which she apologized to Assange for criticizing him in the past.
“To Julian Assange: I apologize,” Palin wrote. “This important information that finally opened people’s eyes to democrat candidates and operatives would not have been exposed were it not for Julian Assange.”