When the Armed Services Committee heard testimony from intelligence officials regarding Russian hacking of the presidential election, members of both parties asked pointed questions about and made vehement statements against Donald Trump's recurrent disdain for the intelligence community.
In a hearing held Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, members from both parties boldly confronted ongoing disparagement of the U.S. intelligence community by President-Elect Donald Trump.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director and U.S. Cyber Commander Admiral Michael Rogers, and Defense Under Secretary for Intelligence Marcel Lattre presented testimony before the full Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John McCain (R-AZ).
Before the hearing, Trump started out the morning attempting to gaslight the American public and invoking the name of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange:
The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange - wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2017
to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against "Intelligence" when in fact I am a big fan!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2017
Notably, his claim to be supportive of what he uses scare quotes to describe as "Intelligence" comes at a time when there are reports he is intending to purge the U.S. intelligence community.
Immediately after the testimonies were presented at the hearing, McCain opened up questioning by noting "the name of Mr. Assange has popped up" and asked the panel whether any "credibility" should be attached to Assange or his commentary. Clapper responded, "Not in my view," and Rogers concurred.
When asked again later specifically to comment on Assange, Clapper noted Assange had put American lives at risk "in the interests of transparency" and commented in his understated way, "I don’t think those of us in the intelligence community have a whole lot of respect for him." Rogers again affirmed, "I second those comments."
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) addressed the Wall Street Journal report about Trump’s plans to "restructure" the Office of the Director of National Intelligence by directly asking Clapper if, as the experts on the subject, he and his office had been engaged by Trump or his team in those discussions. Clapper responded simply, "No. We have not."
Clapper repeatedly described the cyber activities by Russia against the U.S. during the 2016 election as "a multifaceted campaign" and said, "Whatever crack or fissure they could find in our tapestry, they would exploit." In an appeal to the U.S. public, he said of the massive campaign by Russia, "The totality of that effort, not only as DNI but as a citizen, I believe is a grave concern."
Clapper repeatedly reasserted the confidence of the entire intelligence community that the Russian government was behind the campaign — describing that confidence as "very high" — and that the "highest levels" of that government were involved. He declined to comment about the exact nature of the interference by Russia specifically at times, noting that a version of the report provided to President Obama and to Trump this week would be provided to the public after lawmakers had also been briefed. Asked specifically about the intent of the campaign, Clapper said there was "more than one motive" and those would be addressed within the forthcoming report.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) posed the question about "who benefits" from the president-elect "trashing" the U.S. intelligence community. Clapper declined to address her question directly but took advantage of the opportunity to note that, while he encouraged skepticism, "there is an important distinction between healthy skepticism...and disparagement." McCaskill answered her own question, noting that it was Russia and America’s other enemies who benefited. She went on in a passionate commentary saying there "should be HOWLS" about anyone equating Assange’s credibility with that of the U.S. intelligence community and noting that, if the situations of the parties were reversed, there would be.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) emphasized the bipartisan nature of the concerns, saying, "If one political party is compromised, all of us are compromised." He even went so far as to direct his commentary to Trump directly, facing the camera, wagging his finger, and saying, "Mr. President-Elect, when you listen to these people, you can be skeptical, but understand they are the best among us and they’re trying to protect us."
Virginia Senator and former Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine spoke toward the end of the hearing about his own experiences being targeted by some of the false news propaganda and disinformation. He took aim at not only Trump but also Trump’s proposed National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn, saying, "When I see an Administration who’s put in place as the proposed National Security Advisor someone who traffics in these fake news stories, retweets them, and shares them, who betrays a sense of either gullibility or malice that would kind of be, um, these are stories that most fourth graders would find incredible, that a National Security Advisor would find them believable enough to share them causes me great concern."