(CNN) – On Wednesday night, President-elect Trump escalated his ongoing battle with the U.S. intelligence community, tweeting just days before the high-profile briefing: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called quote ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
Intelligence officials are pushing back, denying there was ever a delay in the briefing, and that it was always scheduled for Friday.
Trump also sided with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, a man wanted by the U.S. for leaking classified information, who, in an interview with Fox News, denied Russia had anything to do with handing over the stolen documents from the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Assange said, “We have said repeatedly over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government and it is not state parties.”
Trump tweeted, “Julian Assange said ‘a, quote, 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”
On Capitol Hill Wednesday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence defended Trump’s skepticism. He said, “The President-elect has expressed his very sincere and healthy American skepticism about intelligence conclusions.”
U.S. officials said Trump’s continued public attacks are hurting morale in the intelligence community, with one official saying, “It’s a sad day when politicians put more in stock in Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange over the Americans who risk their lives providing objective nonpartisan intelligence analysis.”
Trump has already been briefed by intelligence officials on the Russian hacks, but the comprehensive report due this week will provide a fuller picture of why the U.S. is putting the blame on Russia.
John Brennan noted, “I would suggest to individuals who have not yet seen the report, who have not yet been briefed on it, that they wait and see what it is that the intelligence community is putting forward before they make those judgments.”
U.S. officials familiar with intelligence briefings say the President-elect has been, for the most part, professional, deferential and polite while attending them. Other officials say he listens, but does not engage that much during the briefings. And, at times, he challenges and questions information.
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