President-elect Donald Trump said he does not believe the CIA’s conclusion that Russia intervened in the election to help him win, attributing the assessment to Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton and claiming repeatedly that the U.S. intelligence community has “no idea” what might have happened.
Trump also denied the importance of receiving the daily intelligence briefing, a tradition for presidents and presidents-elect. He has received the briefings only sporadically since winning the election.
“I get it when I need it,” he said. “I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”
Trump’s comments go against the conclusion of the CIA that individuals with connections to the Russian government provided the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others to boost his chances.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators told The Washingon Post on Friday. “That’s the consensus view.”
Trump openly mocked the report on Friday evening, suggesting that the CIA had discredited itself by producing faulty assessments about Iraq’s weapons stockpile during the George W. Bush administration. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” he said in a statement.
The latest comments appear destined to exacerbate tensions between Trump and the intelligence community, which is already wondering how it will function under his administration given the president-elect’s skepticism of the agency’s expertise and his disinterest in receiving daily briefings.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus voiced support for Trump’s view in an interview on ABC’s This Week.
“The Russians didn’t tell Hillary Clinton to ignore Wisconsin and Michigan,” Priebus told host George Stephanopoulos. “She lost because her ideas were bad. Donald Trump won in an electoral landslide that had nothing to do with the Russians.”
Meanwhile, in the Senate, there arose more evidence of a disagreement between Republican and Democratic leadership about the CIA assessment and what to do about it.
On Sunday morning, Republican Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined Democratic Leader-elect Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) in calling for a thorough investigation of the cyberattacks.
“Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American,” the group said. “Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyber-attacks.”
Absent from the statement were members of the chamber’s Republican leadership. McCain is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Graham is a member; Reed is the panel’s top Democrat.
Other Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have expressed doubts about the CIA’s conclusion that the Russian hacks were designed to boost Trump. On Saturday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn wondered why the issue was being discussed at all.
“All this ‘news’ of Russian hacking: it has been going on for years,” he tweeted. “Serious, but hardly news.”
Trump declined to confirm whom he will name secretary of state but lavished praise on his expected pick, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, calling him a “world-class player” and even alluding to Tillerson’s ties to Russia, which are a source of concern for hawkish Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“He’s in charge of an oil company that’s pretty much double the size of his next serious competitor,” Trump said of Tillerson. “It’s been a company that’s been unbelievably managed. And to me, a great advantage is he knows many of the players, and he knows them well. He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company.”
Secretary of state is the most powerful cabinet position that remains unfilled by Trump about a month after the election. For weeks, Trump has interviewed candidates, including former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R), and deliberated about the decision.
Priebus told Stephanopoulos that he didn’t have misgivings about Tillerson’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The fact that he has a relationship with Vladimir Putin is not something that we should be embarrassed by,” Priebus said. “We have big problems in this world and I don’t think we can solve these problems by making believe that people don’t exist.”
Trump suggested in the “Fox News Sunday” appearance that he will retain a stake in his business as president, a possibility that has raised questions among ethics experts, and he questioned the idea that making deals for his company from the White House would represent a conflict of interest.
“When I ran, everybody knew that I was a very big owner of real estate all over the world,” Trump said, adding that he would not be involved in the day-to-day management of his company as president. “I’m not going to be doing deals at all. Now that would be — I don’t even know if that’s a conflict. I mean, I have the right to do it. You know, under the law, I have the right to do it. I just don’t want to do it.”
Trump is scheduled to give a news conference on Thursday to discuss how he will pass the reins of the Trump Organization to his three eldest children. “They’re not making deals, either, for my company,” he said.
Cleve Wootson contributed.