Trump cites Assange, dismisses intel on Russian hacking

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President-elect's comments come one day before public hearing in Congress on alleged Russia hacking

Trump has persistently questioned conclusion that Russia was to blame (AFP)
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Thursday 5 January 2017 8:32 UTC
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US President-elect Donald Trump sparked a furore on Wednesday by again casting doubt over the government's conclusion that Russia meddled in the US election via cyber-attacks, citing the contrary claims of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The comments come on the eve of the first public hearing in Congress on the alleged hacking, led by Russia critic John McCain, who called Moscow's actions an "act of war".

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers are due to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

The incoming president, who on Friday will be briefed by US spy chiefs on Moscow's alleged election hack, earned widespread criticism when he appeared to trust Assange more than the intelligence services that will report to him starting on 20 January.

In a series of tweets starting late Tuesday, he taunted the CIA, FBI and other agencies, suggesting they still do not have proof Russia penetrated Democratic party computers and gave the documents to WikiLeaks.

And then on Wednesday, after Assange appeared on Fox News denying the Russian government gave WikiLeaks stolen Democratic documents, Trump followed up: "Julian Assange said 'a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta' - why was DNC so careless?"

Trump was referring to thousands of emails and documents hackers took from the computers of the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, which were published by WikiLeaks in the weeks ahead of the 8 November presidential election. 

Some of the documents were embarrassing to the Clinton campaign and analysts say they likely contributed to Trump's victory over the former secretary of state.

The CIA and the FBI have both concluded that the Russian government was behind the hacking and intentionally divulged the documents via WikiLeaks to disrupt the election.

The intelligence chiefs and President Barack Obama have pointed the finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying no such operation could go on in Moscow without the highest level of approval.

And on 29 December, Obama retaliated, expelling 35 Russian officials from the US who he said were "intelligence operatives," placing sanctions on Russian government officials, intelligence services and alleged hackers.

Intel community angered

Yet Trump has persistently questioned the conclusion that Russia was to blame, saying it is simply a case of sour grapes by the losing Democrats, rather than professional intelligence analysis.

But his choice to cite Assange against the CIA and FBI roiled officials in both political parties and angered the intelligence community. 

In a radio interview Wednesday, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan branded Assange "a sycophant for Russia".

"He leaks, he steals data, and compromises national security."

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also questioned Trump's choice.

"I don't believe any American should give a whole lot of credibility to what Mr Assange says," he said on CNN.

The former spokesman of the CIA, George Little, blasted Trump, using the acronym for president-elect of the United States.

In a briefing for journalists, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer deflected questions about the Assange tweets, saying Trump is looking forward to his briefing on Friday by intelligence chiefs.

Pressure for Congressional probe

While Trump - who has made clear he wants a reset of bilateral relations with Moscow - appears to want the election hacking issue to go away, momentum was building for more information to be made public on it.

Last month, Obama ordered a full report to be drawn up by the end of his term in the White House, promising to divulge as much as possible without compromising US intelligence sources.

Pressure is also rising for an independent investigation into the issue commissioned by Congress.

In a letter to Congress reported by The Hill, a group of former senior diplomats and security officials, including onetime secretary of state Madeline Albright and former CIA director Leon Panetta, called for an urgent probe.

"Some have questioned whether the Russian government, despite the conclusion of 17 of our intelligence agencies, was really responsible for the hacks. Such doubts only reinforce why an independent inquiry should occur outside of Congress," they said.