Trump and the (coming) purge of U.S. intelligence, Russia delighted?
President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday night to say that a planned intelligence briefing for him on “so-called ‘Russian-hacking’” had been delayed until Friday, a development he called ‘very strange!” — but one that a U.S. official said wasn’t a delay at all.
The tweet was the latest sign of Trump’s skepticism about a case pressed by the Obama administration, based on the work of U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, that Russia tried to influence the U.S. presidential election by hacking Democratic email accounts, among other actions. Several leading Republicans have also endorsed that view.
Speaking outside a party at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last week, Trump sounded dismissive of those assessments, saying it was “time for the country to move on to bigger and better things.” But he indicated that he was willing to listen to a briefing on the issue this week.
Those remarks on Thursday came just hours after President Obama announced retaliation against Russia that included the removal of 35 Russian government officials and other sanctions against state agencies and individuals allegedly tied to hacking.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, transition spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump’s briefing would be “later this week” but did not specify a date.
In his tweet on Tuesday night, Trump speculated that the reason for a delay of his briefing until Friday was “perhaps more time to build a case.”
“Very strange!” the president-elect said in the tweet.
A U.S. official disputed that there had been any delay in delivering the briefing that Trump requested on Russia, saying that high-level U.S. intelligence officials are scheduled to meet with the president-elect in New York on Friday.
The official said that Trump did receive a regular intelligence briefing on Tuesday, and raised the possibility of confusion on the part of his transition team or schedulers.
“It’s possible that his team has some scheduling disconnect” and that “whatever he received today didn’t meet his expectations,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters. But, the official said, the fuller briefing on Russia’s alleged election hacking was never scheduled to occur Tuesday, and that plans for a fuller Friday briefing have been in place for several days.
The officials expected to take part in that session include Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr., CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director James Comey and the head of the National Security Agency, Adm. Mike Rogers.
U.S. intelligence agencies in recent days completed a draft of the comprehensive review of Russian hacking that Obama had ordered after the election. U.S. officials said the document would first need to be briefed to Obama before it is shared with Trump.
The full report could be delivered to Obama as early as Thursday, allowing for the document and its principal findings to be shared with Trump shortly thereafter. U.S. spy agencies are also preparing a declassified version, stripped of the most sensitive intelligence information, that could be shared with the public.
That version could be ready as early as next week, but the U.S. official cautioned that the timetable on all of these events is subject to change because of the complexity of coordinating the meetings of multiple spy agencies and their top officials with the White House and Trump’s transition team.
Leading Democrats were quick to criticize Trump on Tuesday night.
When Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was shown a copy of Trump’s tweet during a television interview, he said Trump was “being really dumb.”
“Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Schumer said on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” “So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this. … From what I am told, they are very upset with how he has treated them and talked about them.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, took to Twitter, saying he wished Trump showed “more . . . respect for our intelligence professionals.”
Trump also spoke briefly to reporters on Saturday about the situation, saying that “no computer is safe” and that, for intelligence officials, “hacking is a very hard thing to prove.”
“You want something to really go without detection, write it out and have it sent by courier,” Trump said.
Trump also suggested at that time that he had additional knowledge to share about the situation, saying, “I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”
When asked what he knew that others did not, Trump demurred, saying only, “You’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.”
For months, Trump has sounded skeptical about Russian responsibility for the hacks, which included the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, the chairman of the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump has suggested other countries could be involved or that it could be the work of “somebody siting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”