The top U.S. intelligence official said on Thursday he was “even more resolute” in his belief that Russia staged cyber attacks on Democrats during the 2016 election campaign, rebuking persistent skepticism from Republican President-elect Donald Trump about whether Moscow was involved.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said he had a very high level of confidence that Russia hacked Democratic Party and campaign staff email, and disseminated propaganda and fake news aimed at the Nov. 8 election.
“Our assessment now is even more resolute than it was” on Oct. 7 when the government first publicly accused Russia, Clapper told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said motives for the attack would be made public next week.
Trump on Thursday morning called himself a “big fan” of intelligence agencies. But he has cast doubt on their assessments that Russia targeted the campaign of his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, drawing ire from his fellow Republicans as well as Democrats who are wary of Moscow and distrust Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The intelligence officials at Thursday’s hearing said they worried a lack of support from atop the government could prompt valued staff members to leave their agencies.
“There’s a difference between healthy skepticism … and disparagement,” Clapper said. Vice President-elect Mike Pence has used the expression “healthy skepticism” to defend Trump’s criticism of intelligence findings.
Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, speaking at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics on Thursday, said that because Trump had never served in government, he was unfamiliar with the intelligence profession.
“It doesn’t bother me if someone is going to be skeptical and challenge our work and maybe disagree with our views, but I expect that the president of the United States will recognize that the CIA and intelligence community were established by statute for a very important reason,”
The congressional hearing was overseen by Republican Senator John McCain, a vociferous Russia critic. It was the first in a promised series of briefings and hearings on allegations that Russia tried to disrupt or influence the U.S. campaign, one of the most bitter in recent history. Moscow denies the allegations. (Courtesy Reuters)