Donald J. Trump’s preemptive war on the Central Intelligence Agency continued apace on Sunday morning.
On Saturday, The Washington Post broke the news of a “secret CIA assessment” that pointed to Russian forces behind cyberattacks and hacking aimed at trying to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. Senators Chuck Schumer, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Jack Reed released a bipartisan joint statement calling on Congress to investigate, stating that the "stakes are too high for our country." President Barack Obama has already ordered a “full review” of election-related hacking.
Unsurprisingly, Trump and his whole team have been dismissive of the assessment, and seem to hope the CIA allegations will simply disappear. In the meantime, they’ve been throwing shade at the U.S. intelligence community and blaming everyone but the Russian government, Russian hackers, and President Trump’s natural ally Vladimir Putin.
On Fox News Sunday this weekend, the Republican president-elect swatted away the serious questions raised by The Washington Post and the Central Intelligence Agency.
“I think it’s ridiculous...just another excuse,” Trump told host Chris Wallace. “I don’t believe it. I don’t know why. They talk about all sorts of things…We had a massive landslide victory—in the Electoral College…So, no, I don’t believe it at all.”
As the interview carried on, Trump kept dodging the issue, weirdly claiming that “once they hack, if you don’t catch them in the act, you’re not gonna catch them.” Regarding who “they” could be, Trump was not interested in even entertaining the notion of Russian involvement put forth by intelligence officials, and preferred to blame “somebody in a bed someplace.”
Most of all, he slammed a bitter, defeated, and humiliated Democratic Party for all this inconvenient news.
“I think the Democrats are putting [this] out because they suffered one of the greatest election defeats in history,” Trump alleged.
His refusal to acknowledge the CIA’s intel aside, Trump told Wallace that he has “great respect for” the people working in the intelligence community. This statement is at odds with Trump and his transition team’s earlier responses to this story. As recently as Saturday, Team Trump was blasting out a brief, unsigned statement to reporters slamming the level of competence of the very intelligence establishment the president-elect will inherit in the new year.
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the statement read. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It's now time to move on…”
“[The CIA people] don’t know and I don’t know,” Trump said on Sunday about who was behind the 2016-related hacking. It's a talking point that his team, including incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, has adopted as partisan mantra for this week and beyond. Trump’s senior adviser and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway backed up her boss on Sunday, stating on CBS’s Face the Nation that the election was weeks ago, and that the hacking news is, at best, a pointless relitigation of the results.
Trump and his administration-in-waiting are setting a tone towards the U.S. intelligence community that is almost certain to poison relations with his White House before he even sets foot in office. (This is a community that was already actively concerned that presidential candidate Trump would spill their secrets on the campaign trail, and also rolled its eyes at his routine calls for bringing back torture as intelligence-gathering policy.)
“There’s a real revolt going on,” one former intelligence officer told The Daily Beast on Saturday regarding the CIA leaks, citing discussions with former colleagues. “They don’t like [National Security Adviser nominee Michael] Flynn and they hate Trump’s guts. This is their whole life’s work being thrown out the door. They feel like the whole intelligence committee is on probation.”
On Fox News Sunday, Trump further indicated how business will not be conducted as usual once he’s leader of the free world. Regarding criticism of his refusal of more regular intel briefings, Trump assured viewers that he will “get it when I need it,” and, “you know, I’m, like, a smart person.”
Trump has, of course, repeatedly scolded President Obama for skipping intelligence briefings.
When asked by Wallace about potential conflicts of interest presented by his family business—and how this is would be any different from how he painted the Clinton Foundation—the president-elect issued another vague word-salad on how “this is different” and that he is currently “turning down billions of dollars” in potential “deals.”
He also insisted that his loyal staff and children running the organization will miraculously present zero conflict because “it’s totally different, they’re not president.”
“I’m not going to be doing deals at all,” he stressed. “Under the law, I have the right to do it, but I don’t want to do it.” (That he has the right to do so is, bizarrely, accurate.)
As he prepares to take the oath of office in Washington, DC, next month, Trump just wants everyone to know that conflicts of interests won’t be a problem during his presidency (even though he already has these kinds of business conflicts baked in all over the world), and that he “doesn’t want anyone hacking,” Russia or otherwise, according to his Fox News interview aired Sunday.
This would be news to presidential nominee Trump, who in July publicly urged Russian hackers to attack his political enemy.
“Russia, if you're listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing [from emails that Hillary Clinton turned over to the State Department],” Trump said in a press conference in Doral, Florida. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That will be next. Yes, sir.”
So in roughly a month, Trump will become the boss of all the people who are tasked with preventing exactly the sort of thing that he loudly called for over the summer.