Donald Trump

Sarcastic Trump taunts US spy agencies, as he continues to doubt intelligence on Russian hacking

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 2:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 11:25pm

His inauguration less than three weeks away, US president-elect Donald Trump is raising new doubts about the nation’s intelligence community, tweeting fresh criticism at the same people who will help inform his most sensitive decisions once he takes office.

Trump charged Tuesday on Twitter, without evidence, that the timing of an upcoming intelligence briefing on suspected Russian interference in the 2016 election had been delayed.

“Perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!” he wrote, using quote marks around the word “intelligence”.

Trump’s tweet, in line with repeated criticism of his nation’s intelligence leaders, caused confusion among intelligence officials, who said there was no delay in the briefing schedule.

US President Barack Obama last week moved to sanction top Russian intelligence officials over the hack. The Obama administration also expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the country, and restricted access to two Russian diplomatic compounds.

Trump has repeatedly expressed scepticism at the conclusion of intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking and release of e-mails in an effort to damage his campaign opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. He has pledged to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government has denied it was behind the hacking, and praised the Russian leader for not retaliating after the Obama administration penalised Russian officials.

I just want them to be sure, because it’s a pretty serious charge,” Trump told reporters on Saturday as he arrived at a New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

“When you look at the weapons of mass destruction - that was a disaster and they were wrong, and so I want them to be sure. I think it’s unfair if they don’t know. I know a lot about hacking, and hacking is a very hard thing to prove. It could be somebody else.”

Asked what he knew that others might not, Trump said, “You’ll find out Tuesday or Wednesday.”

NBC News, quoting an unidentified senior intelligence official, said the briefing Trump alluded to had always been planned for Friday.

Top Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan have welcomed the sanctions and warned that Russia poses a threat to national security. Trump’s comments have riled critics, who say the president-elect is too quick to discount US intelligence.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that Trump needs to make peace with US intelligence agencies.

“He needs to stop denigrating the intelligence community. He’s going to rely on them. He’s going to have to rely on them,” Schiff said.

“This is the overwhelming judgment of the intelligence community and, frankly, all of the members of the intelligence committees in Congress, Democrats and Republicans.”

Trump’s tweets questioning the US intelligence community’s handling of the Russian cyberattack investigation prompted a warning from a CNN commentator.

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Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian for the network, said the president-elect should not try to cast doubt on the nation’s top spy agencies.

“It’s a bad idea,” Naftali said, “the intelligence community has information about him that I’m sure he would like not to be released.”

Naftali stopped short of implying there’s a big secret about the incoming president, but said “it doesn’t make sense for Trump to be making adversaries in the intelligence community ... a community that serves presidents regardless of party.”

He suggested Trump should “stay silent” about the Russian hacking investigation.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg and Tribune News Service