President-elect Donald Trump appeared to side with controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over US intelligence officials on Wednesday, citing the activist’s assertion that Russia did not provide his organization with the hacked Democratic emails that roiled the 2016 election. Trump’s latest challenges to the intelligence community –which has assessed that Russia interfered in the election on the Republican’s behalf — comes as the government rushes to finished a highly anticipated report on the hacking.
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The president-elect is expected to be briefed on the report Friday by CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Clapper is also testifying on Capitol Hill tomorrow. But he could be limited in what he can say about the report’s conclusions given that Trump — and perhaps President Barack Obama, who ordered the report — will not have been briefed by the time he steps before lawmakers.
The gulf between the intelligence community’s assessment and the public information available to support that assessment has given Trump an opening to question whether Russia was behind hacking of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, a top aide to campaign rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s resistance has put him at odds with Obama and lawmakers in both parties, raising questions about why an incoming American president appears to believe Russia’s denials over the intelligence agencies he will soon oversee.
Trump’s posture has appeared to stem in part from concerns that the allegations of Russian election interference delegitimized his victory. But Trump aides have argued Trump’s position isn’t personal, but based on what he sees as incomplete or inconclusive information.
Spokesman Sean Spicer said today that Trump has received “raw data” on the hacking during daily intelligence briefings. But he said the president-elect was “more skeptical of the conclusions that are drawn.”
The nature of the presidency gives the commander in chief discretion to decide how to respond to intelligence assessments.
But any skepticism about the agencies’ conclusions usually plays out privately in the Situation Room and Oval Office, not on Twitter — Trump’s main forum for challenging the intelligence community and others.
This morning, Trump tweeted about a Fox News interview in which Assange denied Russia provided WikiLeaks with Podesta’s emails. WikiLeaks released thousands of Podesta’s files throughout the final weeks of the presidential election.
“Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ — why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” Trump wrote.
It was remarkable for the incoming president to give credibility to Assange, whose organization has been under criminal investigation for its role in classified information leaks.
Assange has said his source for the hacked emails WikiLeaks published during the campaign was not a government, but his assertion has left open the possibility they came from a third party.