US intelligence leaders take aim at Trump

Photo: Bryan Thomas/Getty Images

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested at a congressional hearing Thursday that President-elect Donald Trump is disparaging the US intelligence community as he refuses to acknowledge Russia’s role in election-related hacking.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, asked Clapper during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing who “benefits” from Trump “trashing the intelligence community” as he expresses scepticism about intelligence assessments that show Russia was involved in hacking Democratic Party organisations in an attempt to influence the election.

Clapper noted that he is “apolitical” and then cautioned against disparaging the intelligence community.

“I think there is an important distinction here between healthy scepticism, which policymakers … should always have for intelligence, but I think there’s a difference between scepticism and disparagement,” Clapper said.

McCaskill said America’s adversaries would benefit from a US president doubting the country’s intelligence apparatus. A report from The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday said Trump was planning to restructure the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA, though Trump’s team denied those plans Thursday.

“I assume that the biggest benefactors … are in fact the actors you have named today,” she said. “Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, and ISIS.”

Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain asked Clapper how he would describe WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose organisation published hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Assange has insisted that the hacked material did not come from Russia, a claim Trump has repeated in recent days.

“Well, he’s holed up the Ecuadorean embassy in London because he’s under indictment I believe by the Swedish government for a sexual crime,” Clapper said. “He has in the interest of ostensibly openness and transparency … put people at risk by his doing that. So I don’t think those in the intelligence community have a whole lot of respect for them.”

Swedish authorities have issued a warrant for Assange’s arrest based on a rape allegation against him, but he has not been formally indicted.

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