White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the intelligence community on Monday against charges from President-elect Donald Trump that their assessments of Russian interference in the U.S. election couldn’t be trusted.
“President Obama is certainly not the first president to have enjoyed the benefits of the experts in our intelligence community,” Earnest said in his daily press briefing, responding to a question about Trump’s recent comments. “I’m confident that the President-elect would benefit from that advice, if he remains open to it.”
“You did not need a security clearance to figure out who benefited from malicious Russian cyber activity,” Earnest said in response to a separate question.
“The president-elect did not call it into question. He called on Russia to hack his opponent. He called on Russia to hack Sec. Clinton. So he certainly had a pretty good sense of whose side this activity was coming down on,” he continued. “The last several weeks of the election were focused on a discussion of emails that had been hacked and leaked by the Russians. These were emails from the DNC and John Podesta, not from the RNC and Steve Bannon.”
Earnest said he would not comment on “a lot of reporting over the weekend about additional intelligence assessments that have been reached.” The Washington Post had reported Friday that unnamed members of the CIA had told lawmakers in a secret meeting prior to the election that Russian-connected hackers had stolen emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the Democratic National Committee, and others in an effort to aide Trump’s campaign.
In response to that and other reports, the Trump transition team released a statement Friday saying that the intelligence assessments had come from “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction”—though that’s not exactly true. On Monday, Trump tweeted: “Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!”
“Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?” he wrote in a previous tweet.
Trump’s rumored choice for deputy secretary of state, John Bolton, also suggested Sunday that the Obama administration publicly attributing the hacks to Russia could have been a “false flag,” arguing that “intelligence has been politicized in the Obama administration to a very significant degree.”
In response to a question about Bolton’s claim, Earnest said “I will rule out that the United States, in any way, engaged in the kind of false flag operation that a wide range of irresponsible conspiracy theorists have put forward. So we can dispense with that.”