Not yet president, Donald Trump has picked a high-risk fight with the all-important US intelligence community, blaming them for an incendiary but unsubstantiated report on his alleged links with Moscow and salacious behavior in Russia.
Trump accused US spies of leaking the report, a dossier prepared for US politicians by a British private consultant, to US media to sabotage him, calling it “disgraceful” and likening their alleged action to Germany’s Nazi regime.
Trump’s outburst prompted a late night call from National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who told Trump he did not believe the leak came from the intelligence agencies.
Clapper said in a statement that he agreed with Trump that recent leaks to the press “are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.”
However, he said, “I emphasized that this document is not a US Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC,” he said.
– Salacious dossier –
One week before he is inaugurated as US president, Trump has been rocked by the dossier, which a former British MI6 intelligence agent prepared originally as opposition research for other US politicians.
The 35-page dossier alleges longstanding communications between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, and that Russian intelligence has lurid videos of Trump with prostitutes in Russia.
None of the allegations are substantiated, but it was serious enough that US intelligence investigated them and included its own conclusions in a top secret briefing to Trump last Friday on Russia’s meddling in the US election and hacking into Democratic Party computers to do so.
Trump exploded Tuesday when media reported that some allegations in the dossier were included in the briefing, which was presented by Clapper with the heads of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency.
The dossier was then published online by Buzzfeed, adding to the president-elect’s outrage.
“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” Trump tweeted early Wednesday.
He repeated the accusation hours later in a press conference.
“I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out.”
“I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”
His blasts against the intelligence community came after his repeated rejections of their conclusion that Russia had interfered with last year’s election, a position he appeared to reverse on Wednesday.
Clapper, whose office coordinates 16 other spy agencies, stressed in his statement that those bodies had “not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable.”
But analysts say the four spy chiefs would not have raised the dossier in their briefing for Trump if they saw it was unfounded. Clapper himself suggested as much.
“Part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security,” he said.
– ‘Alarm bell’ –
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said impugning the integrity of the intelligence services was “deeply misguided.”
“Doesn’t mean they’re always right, but questioning their motives is another thing altogether,” he said Wednesday.
Former CIA and NSA officials and members of Congress also have roundly scolded Trump for picking a fight with the intelligence community, essential to his running government.
“Over the course of the election campaign, and even after it, the CIA and the entire intelligence community has been repeatedly and unfairly subjected to criticism of its integrity. These comments have affected the morale of these men and women,” said Senator Mark Warner, Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Thursday.
Former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin wrote in an opinion piece Wednesday on the Real Clear World website that Trump’s views were an “alarm bell” for the incoming government.
Trump’s distrust of his spies, he said, indicate “that the next four years could prove especially challenging for America’s intelligence professionals.”