Like any president-elect, Donald Trump has good reason to enter office with a dose of skepticism about what U.S. intelligence agencies tell him and how they shape information.
Yes, a new executive chooses whom to believe and depends on trusted aides for safe passage through bureaucracies, offices and fiefdoms.
Yes, bad information can create disasters. The complicated history of George W. Bush adopting the weapons-of-mass destruction canard in Iraq still staggers some minds.
Yes, Trump can be reasonably expected to defend against suggestions that a foreign power, Russian President Vladimir Putin, helped him get elected.
Yes, there remains a paucity of public proof about how this allegedly Putin-sanctioned Russian hacking was conducted.
And yes, it’s to be expected that Trump would downplay the whole issue for reasonable fear that Democrats would brand his election as tainted.
Still, this episode stands out as highly curious if only for the lack of circumspection with which Trump taunts federal officials in public.
Curious — even if these spymasters will be working for President Barack Obama for the next two weeks.
Trump tweeted: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
Forget that officials told reporters Tuesday that “the heads of the NSA, CIA, FBI and the director of national intelligence were always scheduled to meet with Trump on Friday.”
What’s clear is that Trump is taking the odd step of airing this all out in public — rather than, say, pressing the brass sent to meet with him about how they know what they claim to know.
“Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said Tuesday. “So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”
But if it’s dumb or smart depends on why Trump does it.
Does he expect to hear new information that he needs to pre-emptively discredit, if and when it surfaces?
Or is his rhetoric simply the refreshingly candid and bold sound of a Washington outsider moving into the White House?
If you consider this whole Cybergate matter a trial in the court of public opinion, Trump has an interesting defense witness — Julian Assange, the mysterious WikiLeaks founder.
Assange, who’s lived in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for four years after being charged with sex assault in Sweden, published hacked Democratic National Committee emails.
Officially, he’s also under U.S. criminal probe over publication of large numbers of classified documents, deemed by leaders of both parties in Washington as an act of aggression.
Trump quoted Assange on Wednesday saying a 14-year-old could have carried out the hack against a “careless” DNC and that “Russians did not give him the info.”
Maybe the Assange defense will work politically.
The American public, like its president, chooses whom to believe.