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Who does Donald Trump trust on intel? Julian Assange, it seems

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, left, during an interview

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, left, during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity said hacked emails that were posted to his website were not provided by Russia or a foreign government. Donald Trump Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, cited Assange's comments as he continued to raise doubts about U.S. intelligence reports saying that Russian cyberattacks aimed to influence the presidential election. Credit: Fox News

Trump hearts WikiLeaks fugitive

When WikiLeaks in 2010 published classified documents and videos leaked by Pfc. Bradley Manning, Donald Trump was outraged. “I think it’s disgraceful, I think there should be like death penalty or something,” he said in a video clip just unearthed by CNN.

Manning went to prison and WikiLeaks remains under U.S. criminal investigation.

But Trump now signals he puts more trust in WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange than in the U.S. intelligence agencies that concluded the Russian government hacked Democratic and Hillary Clinton campaign emails that WikiLeaks posted.

After Assange’s interview by Trump acolyte Sean Hannity of Fox News, the president-elect tweeted Assange’s contention that “Russians did not give him the info!” Trump also appreciated Assange’s view about the “very dishonest” U.S. media.

Assange spoke from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been holed up since 2012. The Australian was granted political asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex assault charges. See Laura Figueroa’s story for Newsday.

Intelling it like it is

Intelligence officials are worried where the relationship between their agencies and Trump is headed.

“It’s a sad day when politicians place more stock in [Russian] President Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange than in the Americans who risk their lives daily to provide objective, nonpartisan intelligence analysis,” one told CNN.

The Wall Street Journal [pay site] said Trump advisers are working on a plan to restructure the CIA, cutting staffing at its Virginia headquarters and sending more personnel to field posts around the world. The CIA declined to comment on the plan.

WikiLike him, too? Not them

Some Capitol Hill Republicans aren’t feeling the same warmth for Assange as Trump is.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called him a “sycophant for Russia.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said “I have a lot more faith in intelligence officers serving around the world ... than I do in people like Julian Assange.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, “I hope no American will be duped by him.”

The take-away: Doubt and disses

It’s healthy to have a measure of skepticism about U.S. intelligence findings, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison. They have gotten it wrong before, most spectacularly in the run-up to the Iraq War on Saddam Hussein’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Where Trump takes it to another level is in his taunting of the intelligence brass in public.

From the itchy Twitter finger

The president-elect on Thursday referred to Sen. Chuck Schumer as the "head clown" of Democrats. Trump had been mildly pro-Schumer for a while, and all was cordial -- as it was with the Clintons before the 2016 campaign.

But earlier in the week Schumer said: "“Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you. So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”

Obamacare and after

Battle strategy was being formulated on Capitol Hill over the plan of Trump and the Republican majority in Congress to repeal Obamacare and replace it with ... what?

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, huddling with Republicans, said Trump is “working on a series of executive orders that will enable that orderly transition to take place,” and legislation will also be required.

President Barack Obama met behind closed doors with Democrats and told them that they did not have to “rescue” Republicans in finding a replacement.

GOP-on-GOP beatdown

Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer is still listed as chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee. But he seemed to be gleefully celebrating the House Republican retreat after Trump’s scolding over gutting the House ethics watchdog.

“@realDonaldTrump flexes power over @GOP (and wins),” Spicer said in a retweet of a news story about it. He later tweeted that he was just repeating a headline.

Democrats say they should get credit too for stirring a public outcry.

Wall Street gets a minder

Trump chose Jay Clayton, a Wall Street attorney who helped guide a number of big firms out of trouble during the 2008-09 financial crisis, as his nominee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Clayton has represented Wall Street powerhouses including Goldman Sachs and Barclays. Trump has vowed to push for deregulation in the financial industry. See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.

What else is happening

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee convenes Thursday for a hearing on "foreign cyberthreats to the United States." Expect alleged Russian hacking to loom large.
  • A deposition of several hours in a lawsuit involving one of his hotels will keep Trump from his transition duties as early as Thursday, Politico reports.
  • Small world: The house where Ivanka Trump and her family will live in Washington was formerly owned by an ally of a Russian political foe of Vladimir Putin, The New York Times reported.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who blocked action on Obama’s last nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, says he will thwart Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s threat do the same to Trump.
  • After meeting with retired Gen. James Mattis, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand still opposes granting a legal waiver on civilian control of the military to allow him to serve as defense secretary, Newsday’s Tom Brune reports. However, she praised him as an “extraordinary general.”
  • Trump on Twitter sought to share credit for a surge in 16-year-old singer Jackie Evancho’s album sales, saying they “skyrocketed after announcing her Inauguration performance.”
  • Bill Stepien, a political strategist fired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for his role in the Bridgegate scandal, will be Trump’s White House political director. Still no job for Christie.
  • Meeting with senators in advance of his confirmation hearings for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson has projected a clear-eyed and tough message about how he views Putin’s Russia, but avoided commitments on policy and comments on Trump’s doubts about Russian hacking.

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