Editorial Board – The New York Times.
What plausible reason could Donald Trump have for trying so hard to discredit America’s intelligence agencies and their finding that Russia interfered in the presidential election? Maybe he just can’t stand anyone thinking he didn’t, or couldn’t, win the presidency on his own.
Regardless of his motives, the nation’s top intelligence officials were having none of his nonsense on Thursday. In an extraordinary pushback against the president-elect, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was “even more resolute” in believing that Russia not only hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee and others but also disseminated classic propaganda, disinformation and fake news.
Flanked by the Pentagon’s top intelligence official and the head of the cyber command, Mr. Clapper acknowledged that the intelligence agencies can at times make mistakes. But he distinguished between presidential skepticism about their findings, which is healthy, and “disparagement” of the professionalism of the agencies, which is perilous for national security.
With his refusal to accept regular intelligence briefings on threats facing this country and his persistent denigration of the intelligence community, Mr. Trump has shown time and again that he worries more about his ego than anything else. He is effectively working to delegitimize institutions whose jobs involve reporting on risks, threats and facts that a president needs to keep the nation safe.
Since last summer, Mr. Trump has dismissed intelligence findings that the Russians were responsible for hacking the Democrats and leaking the emails that were eventually made public by WikiLeaks. In November, when the Central Intelligence Agency went further and concluded that the Russian hacking was intended to favor Mr. Trump, he rejected the finding as “ridiculous,” though he and President Vladimir Putin of Russia have repeatedly expressed a bewildering and alarming mutual admiration.
Since then, President Obama has sanctioned Russia for its interference in the election and his administration has released limited corroborating information while most Democrats and some Republicans in Congress voiced outrage over the Russian role and called for a full investigation. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump and his spokesmen have continued to deny there was any evidence of Russian involvement, and on Wednesday, Mr. Trump proved he could still shock people by embracing Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, who has been long reviled by Republicans as an anarchist lawbreaker.
On Twitter, Mr. Trump enthusiastically endorsed Mr. Assange’s insistence that the “Russians did not give him the info” with the leaked emails. This was after Mr. Trump had mocked the intelligence community about a classified briefing he is due to receive on Friday. Given such an attitude, one has to wonder whether Mr. Trump’s plans to reform the intelligence agencies are intended as a vendetta or a serious initiative to make the kinds of meaningful changes that some experts say are needed.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Mr. Trump, believing that the office of the director of national intelligence had become bloated and politicized, wants to restructure and pare it back and also restructure the C.I.A., sending more staff members to foreign posts. A spokesman for Mr. Trump denied the report. Experts agree the director’s operation grew beyond what was envisioned in the reforms after Sept. 11; some contraction makes sense, but not as political retribution, they say.
If he ever decides to govern responsibly, Mr. Trump has made his job much more difficult. Having worked so hard to convince the American people that the intelligence community cannot be trusted, what will he tell the country when agents inform him of a clear and present danger?