Presidents have openly clashed with the U.S. intelligence community for decades. Few, however, have done so before being sworn in. But that’s what Donald Trump did Friday night.
Trump’s feuds have been many: First, there were his Republican primary challengers, then Hillary Clinton, then “Saturday Night Live,” then China, and several corporate executives. Other than the skit-comedy show, the rest were rooted in his political strategy and plans for governing.
It’s not clear, however, just what the president-elect has to gain from taking on the CIA, an agency he will depend on to track global threats — and, perhaps, supply him information to make decisions about sending U.S. troops and intelligence operatives into harm’s way.
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” Trump’s transition office said in a statement late Friday night. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
The statement came in response to a Washington Post article citing intelligence sources pointing to a CIA assessment that Russia employed hackers to try to help Trump win the general election. The intelligence agency reportedly concluded that hackers with connections to the Kremlin supplied WikiLeaks with emails taken from the Democratic National Committee, Clinton campaign officials and others.
“For a group that seems willing to accept wild conspiracy theories about pizza parlors, [it is] pretty quick to dismiss intel from the CIA,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said early Saturday morning of Trump’s response to the Post story.
“It’s troubling,” Kaine, the Democratic nominee for vice president, said of the CIA’s finding. “But I’m happy that the president made the decision today to go ahead and have a review, uncover everything they can. I think they already have a lot of the information because I’ve seen classified versions of it along the way. And I hope that they will do as much as they can for the public because I think it’s really important.”
Kaine was referring to President Barack Obama directing the intelligence community to conduct a “full review” of Russian hacking efforts during the U.S. presidential campaign amid growing calls from Congress for greater public clarity on the Kremlin’s efforts to influence the elections.
“We may have crossed into a new threshold and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after-action to understand what this means, what has happened, and to impart those lessons learned,” White House counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco told reporters Friday at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
“I can assure you that the Armed Services Committee will be having a … subcommittee on cyber,” McCain told Roll Call late Friday night. “Not just on elections, but everything that cyber does. Why don’t we have a policy in case of an attack? How do we respond to an attack? What are the capabilities? The election’s part of it will be part of the hearings.”
Asked about his personal reaction to the Post story as a member of the Democratic ticket, Kaine replied, “I was seeing news articles about it all along the way. But I was puzzled why it wasn’t being taken more seriously. I have a lot of feelings about that but at a minimum, I think the American public needs to know everything about it and so does Congress. Again, it’s all about trying to learn everything you can do [so] you can avoid it happening again.”
The incoming Senate minority leader, Charles E. Schumer of New York, said Saturday that Democrats will join McCain’s probe.
“Reports of the CIA’s conclusion that Russia actively sought to help elect Donald Trump are simultaneously stunning and not surprising, given Russia’s disdain for democracy and admiration for autocracy,” he said in a statement.
“That any country could be meddling in our elections should shake both political parties to their core,” Schumer said. “Senate Democrats will join with our Republican colleagues next year to demand a congressional investigation and hearings to get to the bottom of this. It’s imperative that our intelligence community turns over any relevant information so that Congress can conduct a full investigation.”
Bridget Bowman, Niels Lesniewski and Ryan Lucas contributed to this report.