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Transition Briefing: Trump Appears to Side With Assange Over Intelligence Agencies’ Conclusions

Transition Briefing

■ President-elect Donald J. Trump appears to side with the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over United States intelligence agencies, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence backing him up.

■ Mr. Trump finds something “very strange” about his intelligence briefing on Friday — even though the White House says it was always planned for Friday.

■ Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence and President Obama all join the pitched battle to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The Run-Up

The podcast that makes sense of the most delirious stretch of the 2016 campaign.

President-elect sides with Assange over hackings

For the Republican Party, Mr. Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, was once purely a villain. He found little sympathy with conservatives after he leaked American military secrets from Iraq, published purloined diplomatic cables that could have gotten American sources killed and sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, fleeing charges of rape.

But now, Mr. Trump appears to be siding with Mr. Assange over the conclusions of America’s intelligence services.

Mr. Assange appeared on Fox News on Tuesday night with Sean Hannity, one of Mr. Trump’s biggest news media boosters, to declare once again that the Russians were not the source of the purloined emails that WikiLeaks released from the Democratic National Committee and the personal account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Hannity Julian Assange FULL Interview 1/3/17

Mr. Trump followed that appearance with a series of Twitter posts on Wednesday that appeared to be preparing his followers for battle once more information on intelligence findings was released, most likely by Thursday.

There were actually two separate hackings that the Obama administration has said came from Russian intelligence — with “100 percent” certainty.

As he has previously, Mr. Assange said: “Our source is not the Russian government. It is not state parties.” But Mr. Assange has often said that the organization does not always know the identity of its sources. It is highly unlikely that anyone approaching WikiLeaks with the emails obtained by Russian government hacking would acknowledge the source, so it is likely that Mr. Assange cannot be sure of the origin of the emails.

Mr. Assange and Mr. Hannity did not address that, in addition to WikiLeaks, the leaked Democratic material was published by two mysterious websites, DCLeaks.com and a blog written by someone called Guccifer 2.0. American intelligence agencies say they believe both were created by Russian agents.

In addition to American intelligence agencies, most private researchers also say they believe that the D.N.C. and Podesta hackings were carried out on orders of Russian government officials, though a few skeptics say they believe the case is unproven by the evidence made public. Mr. Assange’s statement is unlikely to change that conclusion.

Intelligence officials will brief Congress on their Russia inquiry on Thursday, ahead of a briefing for Mr. Trump in New York on Friday. Senator John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will hold the first hearing on the matter on Thursday as well.

As for that “terrible” information mentioned by Mr. Trump, yes, the CNN commentator Donna Brazile did send Mr. Podesta an email ahead of a Democratic presidential debate in Flint, Mich., tipping him off that a woman in the audience would ask why the government was not doing more to help clean the city’s lead-contaminated water supply, but that was hardly an unexpected query — for Mrs. Clinton or her rival, Senator Bernie Sanders. It did cause Ms. Brazile to lose her CNN post.

The president-elect appears to be getting a jump on the news.

Pence backs up Trump — and Republicans squirm

Vice President-elect Mike Pence defended Mr. Trump’s Assange posts at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday, effectively doubling down on the incoming administration’s icy blasts toward United States intelligence.

Mr. Trump “expressed his very sincere and healthy American skepticism about intelligence conclusions,” Mr. Pence said, with House Republican leaders by his side.

Mr. Trump’s remarks have again placed fellow Republicans in an uncomfortable position. Asked on Wednesday morning about the Twitter post, Speaker Paul D. Ryan steered clear of criticizing the president-elect, saying he would not be commenting on “every little tweet or Facebook post.”

But he called Mr. Assange “a sycophant for Russia, who “leaks, steals data and compromises national security.”

Mr. Ryan noted that Mr. Trump had not yet received his latest briefing on Russia. “Hopefully, he’ll get up to speed on what’s been happening and what Russia has or has not done,” he said.

Trump finds timing of intelligence briefing ‘very strange’

First, Mr. Trump said that the nation should move beyond talk of Russian interference in the presidential election, but that he would listen to what American intelligence experts had to say. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the president-elect promised that by Tuesday or Wednesday, he would reveal information on the hacking that Americans do not know.

And now, he seems to think the intelligence community has not quite gotten its story straight.

The Obama administration quickly let it be known that, in fact, intelligence leaders always intended to brief Mr. Trump on Friday in New York. And intelligence officials were not amused.

Nor were some Republican political consultants.

But this is not the first time the president-elect has taken a swipe at the intelligence community, which has concluded that Russia tried to help get him elected president.

As debate begins on repealing health act, Trump steels G.O.P. spines

President Obama is on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to plot a strategy to save his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act. Vice President-elect Mike Pence countered with his own visit to congressional Republicans.

“The first order of business is to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Mr. Pence said. “It needs to be done.”

And Mr. Trump weighed in on Twitter, trying to stiffen Republican spines as Democrats press their point that a fast gutting of the law will endanger the health care of 20 million people covered under the law and put at risk tens of millions more with pre-existing health problems.

“Schumer clowns” may not be an olive branch to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the new minority leader, but it is a signal that the incoming president is ready for war over health care.

“Republicans should stop clowning around with Americans’ Medicare, Medicaid and health care,” Mr. Schumer responded after meeting with the president. He warned that Republicans would “throw the entire health care system into chaos.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, tried to coin a phrase: “Make America sick again? Is that what Republicans want?”

Trump picks an S.E.C. chairman

The Trump transition office named the lawyer Jay Clayton to be the next chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The president-elect is expected to speak to the news media on Jan. 11

The last time Mr. Trump held a real news conference was on July 27, when he said President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had called him a genius and wrongly insisted that “many people” saw bombs strewn all over the floor of the San Bernardino, Calif., attackers’ home and failed to report it.

That long stretch without a real news media grilling did not do him much harm. He did, after all, win the election.

But he says he will hold a true, open news conference next Wednesday.

No word yet whether this session will take the place of the one he scheduled for last month, then canceled, to specifically reveal his plans for the future of his corporation.

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