Trump Discounts CIA As Fellow Republicans Call For Investigation Into Russian Hacking

Dec 12, 2016
Originally published on December 13, 2016 7:47 am
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Did hackers working for the Russian government put a thumb on the scale of this year's presidential race? That's a question some Senate Republicans and Democrats now want to investigate. And according to a U.S. official, the CIA has concluded that Russia did deliberately try to swing the election in favor of Donald Trump. The president-elect disputes that claim and says it all comes from hard feelings. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: To Donald Trump, allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign are just sour grapes, one more way for disgruntled Democrats to explain away his upset victory in last month's election.

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DONALD TRUMP: I think is ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it.

HORSLEY: Trump said on "Fox News Sunday" nobody knows if Russia played a role in political cyber-attacks. In a tweet this morning, he added, why wasn't this brought up before the election? In fact, the U.S. intelligence community announced their suspicion in early October that senior officials in the Russian government had authorized a cyber-attack on the Democratic National Committee and other organizations.

At the time, intelligence officials said only that Russia was trying to interfere with the U.S. election process. Now with the help of new information, the CIA has gone further. According to a U.S. official, the CIA believes Russia was trying to tip the election in Trump's favor. White House Spokesman Josh Earnest argues that's not much of a surprise.

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JOSH EARNEST: You didn't need a security clearance to figure out who benefited from malicious Russian cyber-activity.

HORSLEY: Earnest notes that hackers and their helpers only published embarrassing emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, not their counterparts on the Republican side. Earnest says there's no evidence Russian hackers interfered with the actual casting or counting of votes on Election Day, but President Obama has ordered a full investigation.

There have also been calls for congressional inquiries. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell says any breach of American cybersecurity is disturbing.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Now, I think we ought to approach all of these issues on the assumption that the Russians do not wish us well.

HORSLEY: McConnell stopped short, however, of endorsing the CIA's conclusion that Russia was deliberately helping the Republican presidential candidate. McConnell says any claim that goes beyond what intelligence agencies said publicly in October is irresponsible, likely illegal and potentially motivated by partisan politics. The CIA has not been joined by other intelligence agencies, including the FBI.

Lawmakers from both parties have voiced concerns about Russia, and that could spell trouble for ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who's said to be at the top of Trump's list for the secretary of state's job. GOP Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio have complained publicly about Tillerson's close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Trump told "Fox News Sunday" the CEO's vast business dealings in Russia are a plus.

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TRUMP: He's much more than a business executive. I mean he's a world-class player.

HORSLEY: Trump continues to downplay warnings about Russia from his fellow Republicans and intelligence experts. His team issued a statement over the weekend dismissing intelligence officials as, quote, "the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction." White House Spokesman Earnest argues Trump should listen to what the intelligence experts are saying.

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EARNEST: These are men and women who dedicate themselves to this cause because they love this country. The president-elect would benefit from that advice if he remains open to it.

HORSLEY: For now, Trump is skipping most intelligence briefings, calling the daily updates unnecessary. He's delegating that task to Vice President-elect Mike Pence instead. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.