President-elect sides with Assange on Russia hacks
As villains go, the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange once found little sympathy in the Republican Party, not after he leaked American military secrets from Iraq, published purloined diplomatic cables that could have gotten American sources killed or sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, fleeing charges of rape.
But now, Mr. Trump appears to be siding with Mr. Assange over the conclusions of America’s intelligence services.
Mr. Assange appeared on Fox News on Tuesday night with Sean Hannity, one of Mr. Trump’s biggest news media boosters, to declare once again that the Russians were not the source of the purloined emails that WikiLeaks released from the Democratic National Committee and the personal account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
Mr. Trump followed that appearance with a series of Twitter posts on Wednesday that appear to be preparing his followers for battle once more information on intelligence findings is released, most likely by Thursday.
There were actually two separate hackings that the Obama administration has said came from Russian intelligence — with “100 percent” certainty.
As he has previously, Mr. Assange said: “Our source is not the Russian government. It is not state parties.” But Mr. Assange has often said that the organization does not always know the identity of its sources. It is highly unlikely that anyone approaching WikiLeaks with the emails obtained by Russian government hacking would acknowledge the source, so it is likely that Mr. Assange himself cannot be sure of the origin of the emails.
Mr. Assange and Mr. Hannity did not address the fact that in addition to WikiLeaks, the leaked Democratic material was published by two other mysterious websites, DCLeaks.com and a blog written by someone called Guccifer 2.0. American intelligence agencies say they believe both were created by Russian agents.
In addition to American intelligence agencies, most private researchers also say they believe that the D.N.C. and Podesta hackings were carried out on orders of Russian government officials, though a few skeptics believe the case is unproven by the evidence made public. Mr. Assange’s statement is unlikely to change that conclusion.
Intelligence officials will brief Congress on their Russia inquiry on Thursday, ahead of a briefing for Mr. Trump in New York on Friday. Senator John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will hold the first hearing on the matter on Thursday as well.
As for that “terrible” information mentioned by Mr. Trump, yes, the CNN commentator Donna Brazile did send Mr. Podesta an email ahead of a Democratic presidential debate in Flint, Mich., tipping him off that a woman in the audience would ask why the government was not doing more to help clean the city’s lead-contaminated water supply, but that was hardly an unexpected query — for Mrs. Clinton or her rival, Senator Bernie Sanders. It did cause Ms. Brazile to lose her CNN post.
The president-elect appears to be getting a jump on the news.
Trump finds timing of intelligence briefing ‘very strange’
First, Mr. Trump said that the nation should move beyond talk of Russian interference in the presidential election, but that he would listen to what American intelligence experts had to say. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the president-elect promised that by Tuesday or Wednesday, he would reveal information on the hacking that Americans do not know.
The Obama administration quickly let it be known that, in fact, intelligence leaders always intended to brief Mr. Trump on Friday in New York. And intelligence officials were not amused.
Nor were some Republican political consultants.
But this is not the first time the president-elect has taken a swipe at the men and women of the intelligence community who have concluded that Russia tried to help get him elected president.
The president-elect is expected to speak to the news media on Jan. 11
The last time Mr. Trump held a real news conference was on July 27, when he said President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had called him a genius and wrongly insisted that “many people” saw bombs strewn all over the floor of the San Bernardino, Calif., attackers’ home and failed to report it.
That long stretch without a real news media grilling did not do him much harm. He did, after all, win the presidential election.
But he says he will hold a true, open news conference next Wednesday.