Trump’s Cabinet picks appear to have wildly diverging views on Russia – Business Insider
Members of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team appear
to have widely disparate views on whether Russia poses a serious
threat to American democracy and national security.
The divergence has emerged amid a public discussion — and Trump’s
skepticism — about the role of Russian hacking in the election.
Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo, for one, is known
for his hawkish stance on Russia and criticism of Russian
President Vladimir Putin.
Putin “is heck-bent on changing the geopolitical future,” Pompeo
at a forum in October 2015, shortly after Russia intervened
in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad.
Pompeo criticized Secretary of State John Kerry’s reaction to the
Russian intervention as too weak. He said Kerry’s decision to
“deconflict airspace when the Russians attack in the Middle East”
was “a change from consistent US policy — Democrat and Republican
presidents alike — that said that the Soviets and now Russians
will not have a foothold” in the region.
Trump’s pick to succeed Kerry as secretary of state, meanwhile,
is Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil, who received the
Russian Order of Friendship from Putin in 2013 and signed
lucrative deals with Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft,
to drill in the Arctic’s Kara Sea.
Tillerson has come under fire from more hawkish members of the
Republican Party. When asked on Wednesday if he would support
Tillerson’s nomination to lead the State Department, Arizona
Republican Sen. John McCain, who has called Putin a “thug,”
replied, “Sure. There’s also a realistic scenario that pigs
Then there’s retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, whom Trump
has tapped to lead the Defense Department.
speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in May 2015,
Mattis said Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and Crimea was
“much more severe” and “more serious” than how it was being
treated by either Washington or Europe, adding that the most
dangerous near-term security threat facing the US “might be
‘We are already at war with Russia’
Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, John
told Congress in 2015 that “we have seen a clear return to
Cold War tactics” under Putin, and that Russia “is using power
projection in an attempt to erode US leadership and challenge US
influence in the Western Hemisphere.”
Half a year later, Trump’s new national security adviser, Lt.
Gen. Michael Flynn, dined with Putin in Moscow to celebrate the
10th anniversary of the state-sponsored news agency Russia Today.
Flynn, who led the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014,
appeared on and been interviewed by Russia Today network more
than once. He has said he absolutely agrees that the US and
Russia need to work together to defeat ISIS.
Pompeo has said Russia’s claim that it intervened in Syria to
fight ISIS was “a false narrative.”
Trump’s pick for deputy national security adviser, former Reagan
administration official and Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland,
said in late October, “We are already at war with Russia. We’re
at cyberwar with Russia.” She suggested Washington could
retaliate via new sanctions against the Kremlin, which
President Barack Obama imposed in late December.
Trump’s incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, said on Sunday
that the White House may have disproportionately punished Russia
with the sanctions and expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and that
“there is zero evidence” the hacking changed the outcome of the
In August, meanwhile,
Pompeo said that Russia was among the “bad actors” using its
“active cyber programs to steal emails” from the Democratic
National Committee and former Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton’s private email server.
But Pompeo and Flynn apparently “share Trump’s view that the
intelligence community’s position — that Russia tried to help his
campaign — is an attempt to undermine his victory or say he
The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a transition
One of Trump’s senior advisers, former CIA director James
told CNN this week that “it is probably not always a good
idea to say in these days and times that we know it was Russia,
it was only Russia,” that engaged in election-related hacking.
“I think the Russians were in there,” Woolsey said, “but it
doesn’t mean other people weren’t.”
US intelligence agencies have concluded that
senior Russian officials were involved in election-related
hacking. The agencies provided no evidence that any other
nation-states had hacked the emails along with the Russians.
Three intelligence officials told Reuters on Thursday that they
have conclusive evidence that Russia not only orchestrated the
DNC hacks, but also gave the stolen documents to the
self-described transparency organization WikiLeaks.
“We assess that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have
authorized the recent election-focused data thefts and
disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets,”
the nation’s top intelligence officials said in a statement to Congress on Thursday.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, told Fox earlier this
week that “our source is not the Russian government and it is not
a state party” — a claim Trump echoed on Twitter.
“Julian Assange said ‘a 14-year-old could have hacked Podesta’ –
why was DNC so careless?” Trump tweeted, referring to Clinton
campaign manager John Podesta. “Also said Russians did not give
him the info!”
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday
called Assange “a sycophant for Russia.”
From the top down, it remains to be seen how tensions among
members of Trump’s team and between his administration and the
intelligence community will play out once he takes office.
“I don’t think they will need to or be able to reconcile all of
their differences in the confirmation hearings,” said Boris
Zilberman, a Russia expert at the conservative Foundation for
Defense of Democracies. “As with other administrations, you will
have a number of natural tensions when it comes to worldviews and
the tactics that should be undertaken to carry those views out.”