After Donald Trump was criticized for appearing to take WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s word over that of U.S. intelligence agencies on allegations of Russian election meddling, he complained on Thursday morning that the “dishonest media” was drawing inappropriate conclusions from his confusing Twitter missives:
This was interpreted as a sign that the president-elect was dialing back his criticism of U.S. intelligence agencies ahead of his Friday meeting with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the heads of the NSA, CIA, and FBI. But apparently the media got it wrong once again, as Trump went back to casting aspersions on the intelligence community after Clapper made his case before Congress on Thursday, and details leaked on the briefing delivered to Obama, which Trump will hear on Friday.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Clapper said U.S. intelligence agencies now “stand actually more resolutely” behind the conclusions they reached last year that the Kremlin’s “senior-most” officials orchestrated a campaign to disrupt the U.S. election, and used information they collected from cyber-attacks on Democratic officials in an effort to help Trump. Clapper said that while the hacking has drawn the most attention, the campaign also involved spreading fake news. “Whatever crack, fissure, they could find in our tapestry … they would exploit it,” he said.
As the New York Times notes, none of the Republicans involved in the hearing agreed with Trump’s questioning of the intelligence agencies’ conclusion, though Senator Tom Cotton did criticize the “imprecise language” saying that Russia “hacked the election.” He also questioned the prevailing idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin preferred Trump over Hillary Clinton.
Prompted by Cotton, Clapper confirmed that Russia “did not change any vote tallies” – but he said there’s no way to know what effect their activities had on how people chose to cast their ballots.
On Thursday evening, the Washington Post reported that the 50-page classified document being presented to Obama and Trump this week reveals that U.S. spy agencies intercepted communications in which Russian officials congratulated each other on Trump’s win. The report is also said to detail how Russian entities handled the cyber attacks against the Democrats and the Republicans differently, and to identify “actors” who delivered stolen Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.
NBC News explains in the report cited by Trump that an official agreed to discuss the contents of the briefing because they felt the Post report focused too much on the Russian celebration. While those communications bolster the assertion that the Russians’ aim shifted from undermining the U.S. election in general to helping Trump, the official said they’re viewed with caution because their meaning is subjective.
According to the official, the report describes Russian attempts to hack the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department, and American corporations, in addition to the Democratic National Committee. Not all of those cyberattacks were successful.
In two other tweets posted Thursday night, Trump referenced a BuzzFeed report that the Democratic National Committee delayed the FBI probe by refusing to give investigators access to their servers. The DNC said the FBI never asked for access to those servers.
The president-elect jumped on a BuzzFeed report to stir doubt about U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings, though he’s yet to receive their briefing on Russia’s activities. “What is going on?” is the right question.