Trump’s Cabinet picks appear to have wildly diverging views on Russia – Business Insider

James Clapper listens to Michael Flynn
Director of National
Intelligence James Clapper listens to retired Gen. Michael Flynn,
who has been tapped as national security adviser for the incoming
Trump administration.

Alex Wong/Getty

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

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

tillerson putin
President Vladimir Putin presents Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson
with a medal at an awards ceremony for heads and employees of
energy companies.


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 fly.”

Then there’s retired Marine Corps Gen. James
Mattis, whom Trump has tapped to lead the Defense

Donald Trump James Mattis
Trump at a rally with James Mattis, his pick for defense


In a 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 it was
being treated by either Washington or Europe, adding that the
“most dangerous” near-term security threat facing the US “might
be Russia.”

‘We are already at war with Russia’

Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland
Security, John Kelly,
told Congress in 2015
 that “we have seen a clear return
to Cold War-tactics” under Putin, who he said “

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 state-sponsored news agency
Russia Today.

Flynn, who led the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014,
appeared on and been interviewed by the state-sponsored Russia
network more than once. He has said he
“absolutely agrees” that the US and Russia need to work together
to defeat ISIS.

Pompeo, Trump’s prospective CIA director, has said Russia’s claim
that it intervened in Syria to fight ISIS was “a false

Trump’s pick for deputy national security adviser, former Reagan
administration official and Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland,
said in late October that “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
Obama imposed just after Christmas.

kt mcfarland
pick for deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, said
in late October, “We are already at war with Russia. We’re at
cyberwar with Russia.”

Press/Angel Chevrestt

Trump’s incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer said 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
that Russia was a “bad actor” that was using its
active cyber programs to steal emails” from
the Democratic National Committee as well as from
former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s homebrew email

But Pompeo apparently “shares
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 didn’t win,” The Wall
Street Journal reported, citing a transition

One of Trump’s senior advisers, meanwhile — former CIA
director James Woolsey — told
last 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

“I think the Russians were in there,” Woolsey said, “but it
doesn’t mean other people weren’t.”

Former head of the Central Intelligence Agency James Woolsey testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during a hearing on intelligence reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2004. REUTERS/Mannie Garcia  MG


US intelligence agencies have concluded
that senior Russian officials were involved in the
election-related hacking. 

The agencies provided
no evidence that any other nation-states had hacked the emails
along with the Russians, as Woolsey suggested.

Three intelligence officials told Reuters Thursday that
they have conclusive evidence that Russia not only orchestrated
the DNC hacks, but also gave the stolen documents to
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

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. “Also said
Russians did not give him the info!”

House Speaker Paul Ryan
called Assange
“a sycophant for Russia” on

From the top down, it remains to be seen how the
tensions both between 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 world
views and the tactics that should be undertaken to carry those
views out.”


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