Rift over Russia: Trump at odds with intelligence officials, Obama

US President Barack Obama in his final weeks in office managed in one fell swoop to strike at both Russia and president-elect Donald Trump, as well as create a rift within the Republican Party.

He expelled 35 Russian diplomats last week on allegations that they were "intelligence operatives" amid accusations that the Russian government directed cyberattacks intended to influence the US presidential election in November.

Trump, who has publicly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, now faces a significant roadblock to his plans to rebuild ties with Russia after he takes office January 20. His stance has put him at odds with several senior members of his own party.

The finger-pointing towards Russia in the cyberattacks has roiled Washington and prompted calls for a congressional investigation, which has only served to worsen tensions between the president-elect and US spy agencies.

Trump has agreed to be briefed by intelligence officials on the matter, a meeting he said would take place this week as he reiterated his scepticism.

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted: "The 'intelligence' briefing on so-called 'Russian hacking' was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!"

The president-elect has repeatedly thrown cold water on attempts to blame Moscow for the hacks. "I think it's ridiculous," Trump said in early December.

More recently Trump said he just wanted the intelligence agencies to be sure "because it's a pretty serious charge," adding that their assessments on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before president George W Bush launched an invasion of the country in 2003 were wrong.

He also said hacking is a very hard thing to prove, "so it could be somebody else."

Russian political analyst Vladimir Frolov told dpa that Trump has shown his intention to give the Russians a pass on their alleged cyberattacks "because he does not want the legitimacy of his win to be put in doubt by the conclusions that a Russian operation was intended to help him win."

It could even be grounds for impeachment if the Federal Bureau of Investigation comes up with credible evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, Frolov said.

An assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency that was leaked to the press in mid-December alleged that Russia carried out the cyberattacks to help elect Trump.

It reached that conclusion, according to unidentified sources quoted in the Washington Post, after seeing that efforts were disproportionately aimed the Democratic Party and its nominee Hillary Clinton.

Adding weight to the allegations, FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr agree with the CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the election in part to help Trump win, according to an unnamed source quoted by the Post.

The spotlight moves to Congress this week with a hearing into the matter by the Senate Armed Services Committee, whose chairman, John McCain, has called for creating a select committee to investigate the Russian hacking allegations.

McCain and fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham have already said they would push for stronger sanctions on Russia in the new Congress.

With the intelligence community apparently in agreement about Russia's involvement, he's not about to look the other way if Russia is waging some kind of clandestine cyberwar against the United States.

McCain has asked the director of national intelligence and the head of the National Security Agency to testify before his committee on Thursday.

Russian analyst Mikhail Troitskiy told dpa that Republicans in Congress formed their opinion about Russia a while ago, and the Obama administration has never forced their hand.

It could turn out that a president of their own party is the one who does.

Last update: Wed, 04/01/2017 - 17:19

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