President-elect Donald Trump insists on dumping on the intelligence community that he will need to depend upon in less than three weeks. On Tuesday, he falsely claimed that the briefing on Russian hacking was postponed until Friday. (Intelligence officials say it was already set for that date.) He openly mocked the professionals who provide vital intelligence to the country: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
On Wednesday, Trump openly sided with WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange, widely seen as a partner with Russia in undermining the West. Trump tweeted: “Julian Assange on U.S. media coverage: ‘It’s very dishonest.’ . . . More dishonest than anyone knows.” (Assange was given free rein on Sean Hannity’s show, highlighting the Russian sycophantic triumvirate of Assange, Trump and Fox non-News hosts. Fox is becoming one step removed from Russia’s official propaganda outlet, RT.) A senior Democratic Senate aide tells Right Turn: “In less than 24 hours, Mr. Trump has disparaged the intelligence community twice by misleadingly saying that his upcoming briefing was postponed, and then citing Julian Assange’s statements as fact. It’s so dangerous and the American people better wake up to what’s happening.”
To be clear, there is no doubt that the hacking occurred. CIA Director John Brennan rebuffed Trump’s claim that the intelligence community’s error on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction makes it unreliable. (“It’s been light-years since that report on Iraq WMD has been done and there has been tremendous further development, I think, of our analytic capabilities as well as our intelligence-collecting capabilities,” Brennan said. “I would suggest to individuals that have not yet seen the report, who have not yet been briefed on it, that they wait and see what it is that the intelligence community is putting forward before they make those judgments.”)
Trump would be wise to listen to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Schumer told Rachel Maddow.“So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”
Trump and his aides are just beginning to experience the scorn of intelligence professionals who realize that Trump is irrational on the subject of Russian hacking. The Hill newspaper reports:
A former CIA operative on Tuesday slammed incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer for saying there is “zero evidence” of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“What the hell is that dude talking about?” Phil Mudd said on CNN’s “New Day.”
Spicer told CNN over the weekend that he believed there was “zero evidence” to suggest that Russia interfered with the election. . . . “To say either from the Trump camp or from the government camp that we don’t know what happened and we’re going to wait for the report — do we ignore history here? I don’t get it, Chris. This is ridiculous,” Mudd said to CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
Trump, if he keeps this up, is heading for a collision with both sides of the aisle in Congress and constant political fencing with the intelligence agencies. If Cabinet nominees support Trump’s pro-Russian stance, they run the risk of getting blocked. And worse, if and when a national security crisis hits, the intelligence community will have every reason to let it be known that the president was out to lunch.
Trump seems determined to prove his critics right — he is not temperamentally or intellectually up to the job. His family and closest advisers had better tell him to get a grip, or his presidency will have a rocky start and may never fully recover.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will begin a hearing on Thursday looking into the Russian attacks on democratic elections. Witnesses will include James R. Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence; Marcel J. Lettre II, undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and Admiral Michael S. Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency. When sober, experienced officials begin laying out the case against Russia, the public may fully appreciate just how absurd Trump is being. His reflexive defense of Russia will rightly be seen as anything but “America First.”
Just as interesting as the testimony in McCain’s hearing will be the conduct of Republican committee members, who include national security hawks Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who has both military and State Department service. None of these men likely will run interference for Trump. That leaves Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who have tried periodically to play down differences with Trump but whose reputations would suffer considerably if they take up the Putin-Trump line. We will get our first indications as to how determined the Senate is to take on Trump and his advisers’ pro-Putin positioning.
Here, there is no middle ground: It is either obvious that the Russians did it or the entire intelligence community (including Trump favorite FBI Director James Comey) is dangerously incompetent and should be replaced. Unfortunately for the country, if the first is true (the facts are incontrovertible), then it is Trump’s competence and sobriety that become suspect.