President-elect Donald Trump, who is reportedly receiving a detailed intelligence briefing only once a week, instead of daily, said in an interview Sunday that he views the regular assessment of threats facing the United States as repetitive and unnecessary.
The President’s Daily Brief, or PDB, is created daily by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which synthesizes information from multiple elements of the Intelligence Community, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and others. The object of the report is to provide the president with the most up-to-date assessment available of multiple threats and opportunities facing the country.
Asked by host Chris Wallace why he has chosen not to receive PDB on a daily basis, Trump replied, “I get it when I need it.”
He continued, “First of all, these are very good people that are giving me the briefings, and I say, ‘If something should change from this point, immediately call me. I’m available on one minute’s notice.’ I don’t have to be told -- you know, I’m like, a smart person -- I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years...I don’t need that.”
He said that his vice president-elect, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is receiving daily briefings, and added, “My generals” are also receiving the information.
However, he repeated that he sees no point in receiving the information himself each day. At one point in the interview, he dismissively impersonated an intelligence official providing the report:
“‘Sir, nothing has changed. Let’s go over it again,’” Trump said. “I don’t need that.”
The interview will do nothing to bridge the chasm between Trump and the Intelligence Community, which only widened this weekend.
On Friday, reports surfaced that agencies monitoring foreign intrusions into U.S. computer networks believe that Russian-backed hackers penetrated the Republican National Committee, but did not publicly disclose any of the information they may have obtained. (The RNC strenuously denies that it was actually hacked.)
The full Intelligence Community stated publicly in September that they had come to the joint conclusion that hacks into the Democratic National Committee and into the email accounts of prominent Democrats, including John Podesta, the chairman of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign, had been executed on the orders of the Kremlin. The data stolen in those hacks was released during the campaign, over a period of months, creating almost daily mini-crises that the Clinton campaign was forced to address.
The possibility that Russian hackers had access to both RNC and DNC files, but only released information on the Democrats, has created suspicion among Democrats that the Kremlin’s effort was not simply meant to undermine the democratic process, but to actively help Donald Trump win the presidency.
That idea was bolstered by a report from The New York Times over the weekend in which unnamed sources claimed that was exactly the conclusion that the CIA had reached. Later stories indicated that the FBI is not willing to go as far as declaring that the motive for the attacks is clear, but others described it as the “consensus opinion” among intelligence agencies.
Trump and his surrogates had already questioned the integrity of the Intelligence Community on multiple occasions after the original reports about Russian hacking surfaced. Trump has repeatedly said that he doesn’t believe Russia directed the hacking of the DNC and that he thinks the claim that they did is politically motivated.
After the most recent reports surfaced, his transition team went a step further, dismissing the findings in a statement that read, in part, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” The reference was to one of the Intelligence Community’s greatest perceived failures -- the finding that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, which became the casus belli for the invasion of Iraq.
Reince Priebus, former head of the Republican National Committee, and currently Trump’s choice as Chief of Staff, appeared on both ABC’s This Week and NBC’s Meet the Press and unequivocally claimed that The New York Times report about hacking the RNC was false. He said, “It is unbelievable that the press would run with unnamed sources about something, that they agree was inconclusive, but ignore the fact that the actual people involved on the other side of this story are telling you it’s not true.”
In the interview that aired on Fox News Sunday, Trump repeated his doubts about the Intelligence Community’s assessment that Russia was involved in the DNC hacking at all.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Trump said. “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it . . . No, I don’t believe it at all.”
He characterized the collection of intelligence agencies as being in disarray. “They’re not sure. They’re fighting among themselves.”
Also in disarray, it appears, are Republican leaders in Congress. Some, joining with Democrats, have called for a full investigation of Russian efforts to manipulate the election.
On Sunday morning, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s Crime and Terrorism panel, joined top Democrats in a joint statement that read, in part:
“Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American. Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyber-attacks.”
However, other Republicans were less interested in an investigation that could be seen as undermining an incoming Republican president.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, tweeted, “All this ‘news’ of Russian hacking: it has been going on for years. Serious, but hardly news.”