Mike Pence defends Trump's distrust of U.S. intelligence agencies

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads from a list of donations to veterans groups during a news conference in New York, Tuesday, May 31, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads from a list of donations to veterans groups during a news conference in New York, Tuesday, May 31, 2016. AP

Members of President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration on Wednesday defended his distrust of U.S. intelligence agencies and their assessment that Russian hackers had interfered in the election in order to help him win the White House.

“Given some of the intelligence failures of recent years, the president-elect has made it clear to the American people that he’s skeptical of conclusions from the bureaucracy, and I think the American people hear him loud and clear,” Vice President-elect Mike Pence said at a news conference on Capitol Hill after meeting with Republican leaders on Wednesday.

The president-elect has expressed his very sincere and healthy American skepticism about intelligence conclusions.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence

Trump is simply expressing “his very sincere and healthy American skepticism,” Pence said.

The president-elect has openly voiced his doubts about the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the U.S. election to hurt his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. He is expected to be briefed on a much-anticipated report on Russian hacking on Friday by CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director James Comey.

Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer, who will serve as Trump’s White House press secretary, clarified that Trump trusts the information itself.

“I think the president-elect is more skeptical of the conclusions that are drawn from the raw data rather than the intelligence in the raw data that’s provided,” he said on a call with reporters on Wednesday.

The briefer gives the president-elect . . . raw data and says, ‘These are the facts on the ground. This is what's happening.’

Sean Spicer, Trump spokesman

Trump is receiving the presidential daily brief with this up-to-date data three times a week, according to Spicer.

In addition, Trump gets a daily update from his own national security team, which is “more of an analysis of that data and intelligence and recommendations on policies that he might want to consider once he assumes office, or actions he might want to take,” Spicer said.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Trump appeared to side with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over intelligence agencies.

“Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ - why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” he said on Twitter.

Trump also alleged that the briefing on Russian hacking had been delayed, calling it “very strange.”

Trump’s tweets led some in his own party to call him out.

“I hope the president-elect will get his information and trust the American patriots who work in the intelligence community – who swear an oath and allegiance to the Constitution – and not some guy hiding from the law who has a record of undercutting and undermining American democracy,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told CNN on Wednesday.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong days that members of Donald Trump’s incoming administration made their comments and Trump tweeted about Julian Assange. The tweet was Tuesday and the comments came Wednesday.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen