Tribune News Service/Washington
President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming press secretary questioned whether the Obama administration’s sanctions after concluding Russia interfered in the election were out of proportion.
“Why the magnitude of this?” Sean Spicer said on ABC.
The White House announced last week that it was levying sanctions against Russian intelligence services and expelling 35 Russian officials from the US in response to meddling in the presidential election. It also blocked Moscow’s access to two compounds it owns in the US.
“Is that response in proportion to the actions taken? Maybe it was; maybe it wasn’t, but you have to think about that,” Spicer said. “That’s nothing that we haven’t seen in modern history and when we look back.”
US intelligence and law enforcement officials have alleged that Russia’s two largest intelligence agencies conducted a campaign of cyberattacks that were aimed, in part, at interfering in the November election.
Trump has expressed scepticism that Russia is behind the cyberattacks, and he reiterated those doubts on Saturday.
“It could be somebody else,” Trump said before the New Year’s Eve party at his Florida resort. “And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”
When pressed to describe what he knew, Trump replied: “You’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Trump has said he will receive an intelligence briefing on the hacking in coming days, and Spicer said the president-elect would reserve judgment until learning more.
Republicans in Congress have said they intend to hold hearings into election hacking by the Russian intelligence services. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the sanctions were “overdue.”
“Russia does not share America’s interests. In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world,” Ryan said in a statement, signalling that he will not be in full alignment with the Trump administration on the issue.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC that the intelligence community has gathered “solid” evidence to support its conclusions that Russia was behind the election hacking.
“It’s indeed overwhelming and the president-elect, as you know, also said that he knows things that other people don’t know,” Schiff said. “He needs to stop talking this way. If he’s going to have any credibility as president, he needs to stop talking this way. He needs to stop denigrating the intelligence community. He’s going to rely on them.”
Meanwhile Spicer said Trump will not end the onslaught of posts on Twitter that fed his unconventional campaign, even after taking on the duties of the presidency this month.
Making news and issuing statements on social media sites that also include Facebook and Instagram will “absolutely” continue, despite earlier promises by Trump to cut back, Spicer said.
“You know what? The fact of the matter is that when he tweets, he gets results,” Spicer said.
In recent Twitter posts, Trump has hinted he’d like to change decades of policy on nuclear weapons; praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin even after accusations by intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to tamper with US elections; and said the United Nations is a “club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”
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