WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday again cast doubt over the intelligence community conclusion that Russia meddled in the US election via cyber-attacks, backing the claims of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
In an early-morning tweet, Trump further widened the gulf between himself and the crucial intelligence services that will serve him when he assumes the presidency on January 20, suggesting Assange knows better than the CIA and FBI.
“Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ – why was DNC so careless?” Trump asked.
Trump was referring to thousands of emails and documents hackers took from the computers of the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, which were published by WikiLeaks in the weeks ahead of the November 8 presidential election.
Some of the documents were embarrassing to the Clinton campaign and analysts say they likely contributed to Trump’s victory over her on November 8.
“Somebody hacked the DNC but why did they not have ‘hacking defense’ like the RNC has,” Trump added, referring to the Republican National Committee.
The Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have both concluded that the Russian government was behind the email hacking, consciously divulging the documents to disrupt the election.
The intelligence chiefs and President Barack Obama have pointed the finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying no such operation could go on in Moscow without the highest level of approval.
And on December 29, Obama retaliated, expelling 35 Russian officials from the United States who he said were “intelligence operatives,” placing sanctions on Russian government officials and intelligence services, and alleged hackers.
In a very brief report, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security sketched out the evidence it had to conclude Russian civilian and military intelligence services were behind the hacking.
But the report gave no solid proof of the links between the alleged hacking groups and Russian intelligence, leaving room for questions and allowing Trump, who aspires to closer relations with Moscow, to cast doubt on the conclusion.
Last month, Obama ordered a full report to be drawn up by the end of his term in the White House, promising to divulge as much as possible without compromising US intelligence sources.
Ryan blasts Assange
Trump has persistently questioned the argument that Russia was behind election-related cyber-attacks, suggesting it is simply a case of sour grapes by the losing Democrats, rather than professional analysis by the intelligence community.
On Tuesday, he tweeted sarcastically that he had yet to be presented sufficient evidence by government security advisors.
“The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
Trump cited Assange after the WikiLeaks founder gave a lengthy interview to Fox News defending the release of the Democratic documents and insisting they did not come from Moscow.
“The source is not the Russian government. It is not state parties,” the 45-year-old Australian told Fox from the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he sought refuge in June 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden for questioning about an alleged rape.
Trump’s use of Assange as a reference could further rankle US government officials, who have viewed Assange as a threat since WikiLeaks published a huge trove of sensitive US diplomatic documents in 2010.
Asked about Trump’s citing Assange, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan skirted the question.
But he said of Assange: “I think the guy is a sycophant for Russia. He leaks, he steals data, and compromises national security.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by strong Trump and Russia critic John McCain, holds the first public hearing in Congress on the hacking, with witnesses including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Nations Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.