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Trump cites WikiLeaks founder in denying Russian hacking

President-elect Donald Trump listens to a question as

President-elect Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to reporters at Mar-a-Lago, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Palm Beach, Fla. Credit: AP

President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday, citing an interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, continued to raise doubts about U.S. intelligence reports that assert that Russia orchestrated a series of cyberattacks to influence the presidential election.

Assange, in a Tuesday night interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, said hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta posted to the WikiLeaks website over the course of the election were not provided by Russia or a foreign government.

“Julian Assange said ‘a 14-year-old could have hacked Podesta’ — why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” Trump wrote on Twitter, posting a link to the interview that was conducted at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where Assange has sought safe haven for the past five years to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges.

Assange’s claim contradicts the conclusions reached by a network of U.S. intelligence agencies which have said that Russia attempted to interfere with the election by hacking the e-mails of the Democratic National Committee and top Clinton aides.

Trump has repeatedly rejected those findings, telling reporters on New Year’s Eve that he had information that the public was not privy to that would back his claims. He said he planned on releasing such information on Tuesday or Wednesday, but Trump’s senior aides Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway in separate interviews later said Trump would not release classified information.

On Tuesday evening, Trump took to Twitter to cast doubt on the hacking allegations, writing: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

NBC News and other outlets, citing U.S. intelligence sources, reported that the briefing was always scheduled to take place Friday.

Spicer said the incoming administration last week asked to meet with intelligence officials to discuss the Russian hacking claims. Spicer said the officials asked to “defer” the briefing until they finalized a report on the issue requested by President Barack Obama last month.

Spicer confirmed that Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence will meet with top intelligence officials including CIA director John Brennan, FBI director James Comey and National Intelligence director James Clapper on Friday in Manhattan.

Asked about Trump’s tweet, Spicer said Trump is “just stating what Assange said publicly. He looks forward to the briefing to discuss all these things.”

Pence, who was in Washington D.C. meeting with members of Congress, told reporters at a news conference that Trump was skeptical of the Russian hacking claims because of “intelligence failures of recent years.”

“I think that the president-elect has expressed his very sincere and healthy American skepticism about intelligence conclusions,” Pence said.

Some Republican lawmakers took issue with Trump questioning the credibility of the intelligence agencies he soon will preside over.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) wrote on Twitter “No American should be duped” by Assange, and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in an interview with MSNBC said “I have a lot more faith in our intelligence officers . . . than I do in people like Julian Assange.”

In 2011, Trump called WikiLeaks “disgraceful” in an interview with Fox News uncovered by CNN, and said those found leaking classified documents to website should face the “death penalty,” after he was asked to weigh-on the website posting hundreds of thousands of U.S. classified documents leaked to the site by former Army soldier Chelsea Manning.

Intelligence officials continued to stand by their claim of Russian hacking.

State Department spokesman John Kirby, in a Tuesday evening interview with CNN, said intelligence officials were “100 percent certain in the role that Russia played.”

Intelligence officials are scheduled to brief Congress on the Russia probe on Thursday.

Also Wednesday:

  • Trump announced the appointment of 11 members to his White House staff including former “The Apprentice” contestant Omarosa Manigault, as director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, and Bill Stepien, a former adviser to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was fired following the George Washington Bridge closure scandal, as White House political director and deputy assistant to the president.
  • Trump described Senate Democrats as “the Schumer clowns,” referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a Twitter post calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The post came as Pence met with Congressional Republicans to outline their plans to repeal the measure, while Obama met with Democrats urging them to preserve the law.

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