Donald Trump’s top aides said he would have an open mind on Friday when he is briefed on what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded were Russian cyber attacks during the 2016 election campaign, despite rising tensions between the president-elect and the nation’s spy agencies.
Trump has been dismissive of findings that Russian hackers worked on his behalf and spokesman Sean Spicer told ABC News that Trump has “a healthy skepticism of everything.”
Spicer and Kellyanne Conway, who will be a counselor to Trump when he takes office on Jan. 20, said Trump would question the heads of the top U.S. intelligence agencies about their methods and conclusions.
“He’s prepared to listen and understand how they got to the conclusions they did,” Spicer told ABC on Friday.
Conway said it was too soon for Trump make a judgment even as he has repeatedly tweeted this week about the hacking issue.
“We do not want any foreign government to interfere in this country … At the same time, let’s wait until the president-elect receives the briefing of this fresh, new material,” she said on the CBS “This Morning” program.
Clapper and the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are expected to attend Trump’s briefing, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. EDT (1730 GMT) at an undisclosed location.
The meeting comes amid increasing tension between Trump and the intelligence communities as the New York businessman has openly disparaged their conclusions, creating an extraordinarily rocky relationship before he takes office on Jan. 20.
The U.S. agencies, which concluded months ago that Russian intelligence agencies had directed the hacking of the Democrats, said in their final intelligence report that they had identified the Russian officials who fed the hacked material to WikiLeaks through a third party, according to senior U.S. officials.
Democratic President Barack Obama received his briefing on the final report on Thursday, after last week moving to punish Moscow over the hack by expelling suspected Russian spies and imposing sanctions. An unclassified version of the agencies’ report will be released publicly next week.
Top intelligence chiefs told U.S. lawmakers on Thursday that they were resolute in their findings that Russia staged the attack and pushed back against Trump’s criticism.
“There’s a difference between healthy skepticism … and disparagement,” James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee at the first in a promised series of briefings and hearings on the allegations, which Moscow denies.
The Senate Intelligence Committee said it will hold a hearing on the issue on Tuesday with the intelligence chiefs.
Trump on Twitter has called himself a “big fan” of intelligence agencies while also doubting their assessments that Russia targeted his Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in order to sway the Nov. 8 election in his favor.
His comments have drawn the ire of fellow Republicans as well as Democrats who are wary of Moscow and Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Leon Panetta, former CIA director and defense secretary under Obama, said on NBC’s “Today” program on Friday that Trump’s criticisms should be done privately and that his tweeting on the issue was “unheard of and unprecedented.”
(Additional reporting by Amy Tennery in New York, and Patricia Zengerle, Dustin Volz and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott)