President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday used comments from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to continue raising questions about the allegation that Russian hackers attempted to influence American politics — a charge the US intelligence community and the Obama administration has defended with increasing vigor.
Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, hours after the broadcast of an interview Assange gave Fox News’ Sean Hannity, to blame Democrats for not having tighter cybersecurity.
“Somebody hacked the DNC but why did they not have ‘hacking defense’ like the RNC has and why have they not responded to the terrible things they did and said (like giving the questions to the debate to H). A total double standard! Media, as usual, gave them a pass.”
Trump’s comments again put him at odds with Republican leaders on the Hill — including Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan — who have shown support for the Intelligence Community’s uniform assessment that Russia hacked American political targets with the intent of disrupting US elections.
The Vice President-elect said Wednesday at a press conference that Trump has a “healthy American skepticism” about the conclusions made by the intelligence community.
“I think that the President-elect has expressed his very sincere and healthy American skepticism about intelligence conclusions,” said Mike Pence, who said he’s received regular intelligence briefings.
When asked about Assange on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Wednesday morning, Ryan responded, “I have really nothing (to say) other than the guy is a sycophant for Russia. He leaks. He steals data and compromises national security.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday that Americans — including the President-elect — should stay away from giving Assange much credibility considering his views of the United States.
“I don’t believe any American should give a whole lot of credibility to what Mr. Assange says,” the South Carolina Republican said on CNN’s “At this Hour.”
“In Julian Assange’s world, we’re the bad guys — not the Iranians, not the Russians, not the North Koreans. You gotta remember who this guy is.”
US intelligence agencies are a far more reliable source on foreign involvement in an American election than Assange, Graham said.
“Mr. Assange is a fugitive from the law, hiding in an embassy, who has a history of undermining American interest. I hope no American will be duped by him,” he said.
“I hope the President-elect will get his information and trust the American patriots who work in the Intelligence Community who swear oaths of allegiance to the Constitution and not some guy hiding from the law who has a record of undercutting and undermining American democracy.”
The DNC responded to Trump’s message Wednesday, saying the President-elect is ” is putting his own insecurities ahead of national security because he is sensitive about how he won.”
“It’s nothing short of terrifying that Trump has chosen to take the word of an enemy of our country over the word of 17 United States intelligence agencies including the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA,” Adrienne Watson, DNC national press secretary, said in a statement. “Trump is jeopardizing America’s future with his fear of offending Vladimir Putin.”
In the Fox News interview, Assange denied that Russia was the source of leaked Democratic emails that roiled the 2016 election to the detriment of Trump’s rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Instead, Assange said the documents — which were stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email — were easily obtained through a “phishing” solicitation, whereby Podesta mistakenly gave up his password.
“We published several emails which show Podesta responding to a phishing email,” Assange said during the interview. “Podesta gave out that his password was the word password. His own staff said this email that you’ve received, this is totally legitimate. So this is something … a 14-year-old kid could have hacked Podesta that way.”
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — an early Trump supporter — responded to Assange’s interview with an apology and a reversal.
Palin lavished praise on Assange in a Facebook post after watching Assange on Fox. She wrote that Podesta’s emails contained “important information that finally opened people’s eyes to democrat candidates and operatives” and which “would not have been exposed were it not for Julian Assange.”
“I apologize for condemning Assange when he published my infamous (and proven noncontroversial, relatively boring) emails years ago,” she wrote.
Palin had previously been a strident critic of Assange and WikiLeaks: The site had published some of Palin’s personal emails in 2008, which were hacked while she was a candidate for vice president, and Palin accused Assange of endangering US military personnel by publishing a raft of State Department cables containing highly sensitive information.
In a 2010 Facebook post, she had written, “Assange is not a ‘journalist,’ any more than the ‘editor’ of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a ‘journalist.’ He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.”
A former Pentagon and CIA spokesman on Wednesday slammed Trump for giving credit to Assange, warning that he thought America will be less safe when the President-elect takes office later this month.
“Let’s stare this reality square in the face: PEOTUS is pro-Putin and believes Julian Assange over the @CIA. On Jan. 20 we will be less safe,” tweeted George Little, who served under former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.