The president expresses frustration over Trump’s unprecedented challenge of the U.S. intelligence community.
President Barack Obama is trying to put his successor on a course correction as he descends into the Oval Office.
President-elect Donald Trump, who will be sworn in as president in less than six weeks, implied Sunday that he’s too smart to require a daily presidential briefing. He followed that up Monday by continuing to sow doubt in the consensus within the U.S. intelligence community that Russia is responsible for a series of hacks that targeted Democrats in the presidential election, questioning why the allegations weren’t broached before Election Day when, in fact, they were.
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Obama, who has talked with Trump on the phone multiple times since his surprise victory, is publicly sending the message to cut it out.
“It doesn’t matter how smart you are. You have to have the best information possible to make the best decisions possible,” Obama warned late Monday. “If you’re not getting their perspective, their detailed perspective, then you are flying blind.”
Obama, in a wide-ranging “Daily Show” interview with Trevor Noah, reminded the president-elect that intelligence agencies identified and announced Russia as the culprit responsible for hacks on Democrats and Democratic institutions in October, a month before the election.
“This was not a secret,” Obama said, explaining that he called for a review last week to be completed before he leaves office to “gather all the threads” of past investigations and intelligence work in an effort to bar such interference from having an impact in future elections.
Trump specifically disputed the CIA’s reported assessment that Russia not only interfered in the presidential election but did so with the aim of helping elect him, arguing that such a claim would be dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” had he lost on Election Day and his team blamed it on Russian interference.
Of course, Trump invited Russia to commit cyber espionage against his political opponent at his last news conference in July, which Obama acknowledged.
“The president-elect, in some of his political events, specifically said to the Russians: ‘Hack Hillary’s emails so that we can finally find out what’s going on and, you know, confirm our conspiracy theories,’” Obama said.
“I don’t think there was any doubt among anybody in the media or among members of Congress as to who was being advantaged or disadvantaged by the political gossip that was being put out in drip, drip, drip fashion leading up to the election,” he added.
Trump’s refusal to accept the American intelligence puts him at odds with Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday signaled his support for a congressional probe into Russian meddling in the election. His counterpart, House Speaker Paul Ryan, similarly supported a House panel’s ongoing investigation into cyber threats from foreign entities.
A group of Democratic senators on Tuesday sent letters to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, requesting from Clapper a report detailing the extent of Russian intervention and from Lynch’s Justice Department a criminal investigation into Russian officials.
Former Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers, a Republican who chaired the House Intelligence Committee and was temporarily part of Trump’s transition team, said he’s worried by the president-elect’s rhetoric toward the CIA.
“I don’t understand why he’s picking the fight, candidly. It makes no sense to me whatsoever,” he told Miami radio host Fernand Amandi on Tuesday.
Rogers warned that the incoming commander in chief shouldn’t diminish the CIA’s credibility before he even takes office but expressed optimism that his latest fight is just a “growing” moment.
“I’m hoping that this is one of those growing moments, that once you become president on Jan. 20 and then the 21st you get that first oh-my-God briefing — and he’ll get some of that, but he won’t get it all until after he’s president — that that kind of opens his eyes to about what Russia has been up to,” Rogers said. “He can still make the decision he wants to have a better relationship, that’s fine. But you need to do it fully understanding what the Russians are doing. And they are being very aggressive, and not in a good way.”
Obama’s hope, he said, is that future administrations carry out his effort to receive intelligence free of “political spin.”
“I’m very proud of the fact that over the course of eight years, the message I’ve sent to every intelligence agency is ‘I want it straight, without spin,’” he said. “And I think we’ve developed a culture that does that. My hope is that that remains because we’ve seen in the past where there was political spin on intelligence, or at least that the intelligence agencies felt obliged to cater to the predispositions of the president or his team, that you end up making bad mistakes.”