Trump Says Only ‘Fools’ See Good Ties With Russia as Bad

  • Says Russia will respect U.S. more under a Trump presidency
  • Comments day after intel briefing on Russia election meddling

QuickTake: Chilled U.S.-Russia Relations

Facing calls to strike back at Russia for what U.S. intelligence agencies have termed Moscow’s interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Donald Trump instead suggested warmer relations between the two countries.

The president-elect took to Twitter on Saturday to discuss the potential U.S.-Russia relationship under his administration, a day after U.S. spy chiefs briefed him on the Russian measures they said were directed by President Vladimir Putin.

Read the full report here (PDF).

“Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said in a series of three tweets. “Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think it is bad! We have enough problems around the world without yet another one.”

“When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now,” Trump assured his 19 million Twitter followers.

On Friday, top U.S. intelligence officials met with the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York to present evidence that Putin personally ordered cyber and disinformation attacks on the U.S. campaign.

Putin developed “a clear preference” for Trump to win, the agencies said in a declassified summary of their findings. The agencies said they “assess Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,” according to the report.

‘High Confidence’

“All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence,” the report said. “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.”

Requests for comment Friday to the Russian Embassy in Washington were not returned. On Saturday, posts from the Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in the U.K. dismissed the report, calling it “a pathetic attempt at tainting Americans’ vote by innuendo couched in Intel new-speak.”

“All accusations against Russia are based on ‘confidence’ and assumptions,” Alexey Pushkov, a member of the Russian Parliament’s upper house, said on Twitter. As Trump’s transition team did in a statement in December, Pushkov drew a parallel with the U.S. intelligence finding of the early 2000s that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

The report was released shortly after intelligence chiefs briefed Trump on their findings that Russia was responsible for the hacking of Democratic Party computers and the leaking of e-mails damaging to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations.

‘Poorly Defended’

Trump said negligence by the DNC had allowed the hacking to go ahead. “Only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!” Trump tweeted on Saturday. By contrast, “the Republican National Committee had strong defense!” he said -- although the intelligence report said that Russia had targeted both major parties.

In a statement after Friday’s meeting, the president-elect didn’t explicitly endorse the intelligence officials’ conclusions, but said he has “tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.”

“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said in the statement.

The intelligence agencies agreed there was no evidence of ballots being hacked but said in the report that, “we did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Cyber-Team Coming

Trump said Friday he will appoint a team to develop a plan “to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks” within 90 days of taking office.

In a related move, the Department of Homeland Security on Friday designated elections systems as “critical infrastructure,” which will allow the federal government to provide cybersecurity resources to state and local jurisdictions.

Trump has expressed admiration for Putin as a strong leader and predicted the pair can work together on issues such as fighting Islamic State terrorists. He returned to that theme on Saturday: “Both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!”

‘Egregious’ Actions

Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and deputy assistant secretary of state for Russia and Ukraine, was skeptical.

“I also would like to see better U.S.-Russia relations, but that will require some change in Russian (and American) policies,” Pifer, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said in an e-mail Saturday. Trump “gives no indication that he wants any changes in Kremlin policy. The concern thus is that he might get to ‘good’ relations with Russia simply by accepting a lot of egregious Russian actions.”

Drawing on multiple intelligence sources, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency said in the report that Russia’s operation blended covert activity, including cyberattacks, with public efforts by Russian government agencies, state-funded media and paid social media users known as “trolls.”

The president-elect “should make clear that that is absolutely unacceptable and will result in retaliation,” Pifer said. “This is not about re-litigating the election -- Mr. Trump won and will be president -- it’s about protecting the core of the American democratic system.”

The agencies emphasized that the public version issued Friday, unlike classified versions presented to Trump, President Barack Obama and members of Congress, didn’t include all of the sources, methods and supporting evidence used by the American spy agencies.

Undermining Clinton

Russia’s intelligence services initially carried out cyber operations against targets involved in last year’s presidential campaign, including the Republican as well as the Democratic party, the agencies said.

“Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates,” according to the report. “When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency.”

Eventually, the agencies said, “Putin publicly indicated a preference for President-elect Trump’s stated policy to work with Russia, and pro-Kremlin figures spoke highly about what they saw as his Russia-friendly positions on Syria and Ukraine. Putin publicly contrasted the president-elect’s approach to Russia with Secretary Clinton’s ‘aggressive rhetoric.”’

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams

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