Director of the CIA John Brennan arrive to testify during a Senate Armed Services Committe hearing on Russian Intelligence Activities on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC January 10, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Tasos Katopodis
Outgoing CIA chief John Brennan on Sunday launched a scathing attack on Donald Trump, warning him to watch what he says and suggesting the president-elect doesn’t understand the challenges posed by Russia.
Brennan’s stern words — which sparked a quick Twitter retort from Trump — were the latest salvo in the ongoing feud between the incoming Republican leader and US intelligence agencies, who have concluded Moscow meddled in the November election.
The 70-year-old Trump, who takes office on Friday, has nevertheless been effusive in his praise of Vladimir Putin, saying that if the Russian leader “likes” him, it would be an “asset” to help repair strained ties with Moscow.
The Senate Intelligence committee meanwhile has launched a bipartisan probe into Moscow’s alleged interference in US politics — which could force officials in both Barack Obama’s administration and Trump’s government to testify.
“I don’t think he has a full appreciation of Russian capabilities, Russia’s intentions and actions,” Brennan said of Trump on Fox News Sunday.
“I think Mr Trump has to be very disciplined in terms of what it is that he says publicly,” he added.
“He is going to be, in a few days’ time, the most powerful person in the world, in terms of sitting on top of the United States government and I think he has to recognize that his words do have impact,” the CIA chief said.
“He’s going to have the opportunity to do something for national security as opposed to talking and tweeting,” he added.
“Spontaneity is not something that protects national security interests.”
– ‘Distraction’ –
US intelligence agencies allege that Putin ordered a covert effort to interfere in the election to boost Trump and harm his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
A report from the Director of National Intelligence released this month said hackers working for Russia penetrated Democratic Party computers and accounts to release files embarrassing to Clinton, and also conducted a campaign of media manipulation with the same aim.
Trump’s feud with intelligence agencies has been stoked by the leak of an unsubstantiated report that Russia had gathered compromising personal and financial material on the president-elect, and alleged close links between Trump and Kremlin aides during the campaign.
Hours after Brennan’s rebuke, Trump slapped back at intelligence leaders on Twitter, echoing the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward, who called the alleged Russia “kompromat” dossier “garbage.”
And later, he sent another tweet, this time slamming Brennan for suggesting that Trump did not fully understand Russia — and even seeming to hint that the CIA chief himself might have leaked the Russia dossier.
“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?”
Incoming Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday dismissed notions that the Trump team and the Kremlin had made contact during the 2016 race.
“This is all a distraction,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“It’s all part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of his presidency.”
– ‘Salacious allegations’ –
The unsubstantiated dossier about Trump, Russia and possible compromising material — compiled by a former British MI6 intelligence agent doing opposition research for Trump’s campaign opponents — also said Moscow had incriminating video of the president-elect.
The fact that intelligence agencies had offered Trump a synopsis of the dossier — which was later published in full online by BuzzFeed — lent the allegations credence.
But Brennan said the intelligence community was only “making sure that the president-elect was aware that it was circulating.”
“I think there are some very salacious allegations in there — again, unsubstantiated,” he said, adding it was “a responsibility in the minds of the intelligence directors” to inform Trump as well as the Obama White House of the report.
Brennan bristled at Trump’s likening of the US intelligence community to Nazi Germany, calling it “outrageous.”
“I do take great umbrage at that,” the outgoing spy chief said.
Pence blamed the scandal on “media bias,” in an interview with CBS.