Trump has persistently questioned the conclusion that Russia was to blame, saying it is simply a case
of sour grapes by the losing Democrats, rather than professional intelligence analysis
Paul Handley –
President-elect Donald Trump has sparked a fresh furor again casting doubt over the government’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the US election via cyber-attacks, citing the claims of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The comments come on the eve of the first public hearing in Congress on the alleged hacking, led by strong Trump and Russia critic John McCain, who called Moscow’s actions an “act of war.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers were due to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The incoming president, who on Friday will be briefed by US spy chiefs on Moscow’s alleged election hack, earned widespread criticism when he appeared to trust Assange more than the intelligence services that will report to him starting on January 20.
In a series of tweets, he taunted the CIA, FBI and other agencies, suggesting they still don’t have proof Russia penetrated Democratic party computers and gave the documents to WikiLeaks.
“The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!” Trump said.
And then on Wednesday, after Assange appeared on Fox News denying the Russian government gave WikiLeaks stolen Democratic documents, Trump followed up: “Julian Assange said ‘a 14-year-old could have hacked Podesta’ — why was DNC so careless”
Trump was referring to thousands of emails and documents hackers took from the computers of the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, which were published by WikiLeaks in the weeks ahead of the November 8 presidential election.
Some of the documents were embarrassing to the Clinton campaign and analysts say they likely contributed to Trump’s victory over the former secretary of state.
The Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have both concluded that the Russian government was behind the hacking, and intentionally divulged the documents via WikiLeaks to disrupt the election.
The intelligence chiefs and President Barack Obama have pointed the finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying no such operation could go on in Moscow without the highest level of approval.
And on December 29, Obama retaliated, expelling 35 Russian officials from the United States who he said were “intelligence operatives,” placing sanctions on Russian government officials and intelligence services, and alleged hackers.
Yet Trump has persistently questioned the conclusion that Russia was to blame, saying it is simply a case of sour grapes by the losing Democrats, rather than professional intelligence analysis.
But his choice to cite Assange against the CIA and FBI roiled officials in both political parties and angered the intelligence community.
In a radio interview on Wednesday, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan branded Assange “a sycophant for Russia.”
“He leaks, he steals data, and compromises national security.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also questioned Trump’s choice.
“I don’t believe any American should give a whole lot of credibility to what Assange says,” he said on CNN.
The former spokesman of the CIA, George Little, blasted Trump, using the acronym for president-elect of the United States.
“No PEOTUS in our history has ever mocked his own intelligence community so openly or so often,” Little said via Twitter.
“Let’s stare this reality square in the face: PEOTUS is pro-Putin and believes Julian Assange over the @CIA.
On January 20 we will be less safe.”
In a briefing for journalists, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer deflected questions about the Assange tweets, saying Trump is looking forward to his briefing on Friday by the intelligence chiefs.
Yet at the same time, former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a Trump backer, praised Assange.
The Democratic Party documents published by WikiLeaks “finally opened people’s eyes to Democrat candidates and operatives [that] would not have been exposed were it not for Julian Assange,” she said on Facebook.
While Trump — who has made clear he wants a reset of bilateral relations with Moscow — appears to want the election hacking issue to go away, momentum was building for more information to be made public on it. Last month, Obama ordered a full report to be drawn up by the end of his term in the White House, promising to divulge as much as possible without compromising US intelligence sources.— AFP