President-elect Donald Trump believes that American intelligence agencies were motivated by politics, and not hard evidence, when they determined earlier this year that Russian state-sponsored hackers were behind the theft and release of internal emails from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe [Russia] interfered,” Trump told Time magazine in his “Person of the Year” interview, released Wednesday.
“That became a laughing point, not a talking point,” he went on. “Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.’”
When Time reporters asked Trump if the conclusions reached by U.S. intelligence professionals who analyzed the hacks were “politically driven,” Trump replied, “I think so.”
The remark has received relatively little attention since the interview was published. But it is astonishing to hear an American president-elect accuse the nation’s intelligence community ― which comprises 16 separate agencies and thousands of employees, many of whom perform dangerous jobs with zero recognition ― of conspiring to lie to the country in order to bolster one political candidate over another.
Trump’s comments are likely to further alienate him and his incoming administration from career intelligence officers, who serve on the front lines of America’s most sensitive military and diplomatic endeavors.
Already, Trump has raised concerns among intelligence professionals for his decision to skip most of his daily intelligence briefings, widely considered to be the most significant daily meetings on a U.S. president’s calendar.
Trump also upset U.S. spies this fall when he publicly described his classified intelligence briefings. Specifically, Trump claimed that he could tell from the body language of national security staffers after one briefing that they “were not happy” serving President Barack Obama.
Those comments prompted former deputy CIA Director Michael Morell to say Trump had “zero understanding of how intelligence works.”
Trump’s willingness to repeat false information has also caused headaches at U.S. spy agencies. In August, Trump repeatedly claimed to have seen a new “top secret” video of U.S. currency being unloaded from an airplane in Iran.
Pressed by reporters to explain what Trump was talking about, his campaign soon acknowledged that the video Trump was referring to was a months-old public clip of U.S. citizens getting off a plane in Switzerland.
In other words, the video did not show currency, it was not “top secret” and it was not filmed in Iran.
Speaking to Time, Trump continued to sow doubts about who was behind the DNC hacks. “It could be Russia, and it could be China, and it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey,” Trump said.
This directly contradicts the findings of U.S. intel officers, who traced the data theft back to Russian state-sponsored hackers, who appeared to be trying to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in Trump’s favor.
The president-elect has made no secret of his admiration for Russia’s autocratic president, Vladimir Putin, and his desire to strengthen U.S.-Russia ties, despite Russia’s myriad violations of international law.