President-elect Donald Trump appeared to suggest that outgoing CIA Director John Brennan may have been behind the publication last week of unverified and salacious intelligence connecting the president-elect to Russia.
The comments on Twitter came hours after Brennan, in an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” called the Republican’s recent remarks about the U.S. intelligence community “outrageous,” and suggested that Trump’s overtures to improve relations with Russia are naïve.
Trump retorted to his 20 million Twitter followers, “@FoxNews ‘Outgoing CIA Chief, John Brennan, blasts Pres-Elect Trump on Russia threat. Does not fully understand.’ Oh really, couldn’t do much worse - just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the build-up of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?”
.@FoxNews "Outgoing CIA Chief, John Brennan, blasts Pres-Elect Trump on Russia threat. Does not fully understand." Oh really, couldn't do...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2017
much worse - just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the build-up of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2017
Brennan’s earlier comments came amid escalating tensions between the president-elect and the intelligence community following a series of insults and allegations by Trump in recent weeks.
Trump on Jan. 11 accused the U.S. national security apparatus, in general, of being behind the publication by BuzzFeed of reports that Russia had collected compromising personal and financial information on the president-elect as part of its efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential election. At the time Trump asked in a Twitter post, “are we living in Nazi Germany?”
“What I do find outrageous is equating intelligence community with Nazi Germany,” said Brennan, 61, who served in the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly.”
“There is no interest in undermining the president-elect,” he added.
The information released had circulated in the intelligence community and within some news organizations for months and received occasional, scant treatment in the media, but was published in full by BuzzFeed on Jan. 10 in a 35-page document.
‘Cadre of Professionals’
Outgoing White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that “the intelligence community is staffed by an unbelievable cadre of professionals who have dedicated their lives, and in many cases put their lives at risk, to get really critical, timely and important information to policy makers.”
Brennan, who characterized the off-the-cuff style that’s defined Trump’s public pronouncements as “not something that protects national security interests,” also suggested that Trump’s openness to friendship with Russia could originate from a lack of knowledge.
“I don’t think he has a full appreciation of Russian capabilities, Russians’ intentions, and actions that they are undertaking in many part of the world,” Brennan said. The intelligence community has accused Russia of hacking top-level Democrats during the election to help Trump -- a charge that led to earlier insults by Trump.
Brennan admonished Trump, who’s recently suggested he might lift sanctions on Russia, “to be mindful that he doesn’t yet, I think, have a full appreciation/understanding of what the implications are of such a move” amid Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Syria and online. He added that Trump “needs to be very, very careful.”
“I very much hope our relationship improves in the coming administration,” especially on counter-terrorism, Brennan added, “but there is a fair amount of responsibility on Russia’s part to change their behavior.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence said in an earlier interview on the same program that cooperation on counter-terrorism was at the heart of Trump’s willingness to “explore the possibility of better relations” with Russia.
“We have a common enemy in ISIS,” said Pence, using another name for the terrorist group Islamic State. “The ability to work with Russia to confront, hunt down, and destroy ISIS at its source represents an enormously important priority of this incoming administration.”
Pence also denied there were any contacts between Trump associates and Russia, as alleged in the unverified memo. He said incoming National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s conversation with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in December, on the day President Barack Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia for the hacking was “not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions or the expulsion of diplomats.”