Top intelligence officials reject Trump’s position on Russian hacking

“I think there’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, left, and National Security Agency and Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers wait on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, prior to testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, left, and National Security Agency and Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers wait on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, prior to testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The country’s top intelligence official told lawmakers Thursday that Russia’s cyber security breach played a major role in the U.S. election, rejecting President-elect Donald Trump’s “disparagement” of intelligence agencies and his views on the hacking.

During a Senate hearing on “Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper alleged that Trump is undermining the intelligence community when he disparages its findings about Russia’s role in the hacking.

“I think there is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism which policymakers — to include policymaker number one — should have, but I think there’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement,” Clapper said, adding that Trump’s rhetoric is alarming U.S. allies abroad.

On Tuesday, Trump sided with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over the U.S. intelligence community, casting doubt on their conclusion that Russia was behind the cyber attacks. “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case,” he wrote on Twitter. “Very strange!”

During the hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also asked Clapper whether Assange should be given any credibility. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted an Assange quote claiming that a 14-year-old could have hacked Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.

“Not in my view,” Clapper responded.

Democrats also disparaged Trump’s handling of the hack, while many Republicans refused to go so far. McCain and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) both took harsher stances against Trump, but TV commentator Ana Navarro noted that “other GOP’ers may bend into pretzels to justify [Trump’s] narrative on Russian hacking.”

More details on the motives behind Russia’s hacks will not come until a report is released next week, Clapper repeatedly noted. The report will likely expand on the finding, announced after the election, that Russian deliberately tried to help Trump win.

Clapper said Thursday that there’s no evidence that the breaches changed any vote totals. But, he noted that we will never be able to say for certain whether the hacks impacted the election by changing voters’ opinions.

McCain, however, made it clear that he does not view the intelligence community’s work as casting doubt on Trump’s presidency.

“The goal of this review, as I understand it, is not to question the outcome of the presidential election, nor should it be,” the senator said. “As both President Obama and President-elect Trump have said, our nation must move forward. But we must do so with full knowledge of the fact.”