- REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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 skepticism about intelligence assessments that show Russia was involved in hacking Democratic Party organizations in an attempt to influence the election.
Clapper said he is “apolitical” and cautioned against disparaging the intelligence community.
“I think there is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policymakers … should always have for intelligence, but I think there’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement,” Clapper said.
Clapper was one of a number of top intelligence officials who testified before the Senate on Thursday and largely affirmed the intelligence community’s findings on Russian election-related hacking, brushing back consistent skepticism from the president-elect. In a joint statement Thursday, the intelligence leaders said “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized” the hacking.
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 on Thursday denied those plans.
“I assume that the biggest benefactors … are in fact the actors you have named today,” McCaskill 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 organization published hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s 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 in 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 him.”
Swedish authorities have issued a warrant for Assange’s arrest in relation to a rape allegation against him, but he has not been formally indicted.