Priebus to intelligence agencies: ‘Stand in front of a camera and make the case’ on Russian hacking

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Republican president-elect Donald Trump and Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, embrace during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff continued to cast doubt on the American intelligence community’s finding that Russia was responsible for hacks into Democratic emails in an effort to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

“It sure would be nice to hear from everybody. I mean, if there is this conclusive opinion among all of these intelligence agencies, then they should issue a report or they should stand in front of a camera and make the case,” Reince Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Host Chris Wallace pressed Priebus, currently the chairman of the Republican National Committee, on what it would take for Trump to accept that Russia was behind the hacks, and that its intent was to boost Trump.

“I think he would accept the conclusion if these intelligence professionals would get together, put out a report, show the American people that they’re actually on the same page as opposed to third parties through ‘The Washington Post,’ ” Priebus said.

Wallace pointed out that CIA Director John Brennan had sent an unclassified letter Friday to the agency’s employees saying that FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper agree with the CIA’s findings on the Russian hacking.

But Priebus said the intelligence leaders should defend their findings publicly.

“I mean, we haven’t heard from Comey. So, look, I think that these guys should be straight with the American people and come out and say it. I don’t think they’ve been clear about it. I think that it’s been all over the map,” Priebus said.

He said US intelligence agencies’ conclusion might ultimately be accepted by Trump.

“Look, I think that they’re almost there, except for the fact they haven’t been totally upfront and transparent in their opinion as to who, what, where, and how this all happened. And I think they’ll get there. And when they do, we can hear from the President-elect and get his opinion,” he said.

“But the reality of all of this and all of these players that are spinning these reports are doing it for a political purpose,” Priebus said, “which is to delegitimize the outcome of the election.”

Priebus’ comments come amid a public spat between Trump’s aides and President Barack Obama’s White House over Russian hacking.

On Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest escalated his post-election criticism of Trump, insisting it was plainly obvious to the Republican’s team that Russia was interfering in the US election to bolster their chances of victory.

He dismissed the President-elect’s response as unserious and encouraged Trump to answer questions about the hacking instead of questioning US intelligence.

“It’s just a fact — you all have it on tape — that the Republican nominee for president was encouraging Russia to hack his opponent because he believed that that would help his campaign,” Earnest said, calling it a “basic fact” of the presidential contest.

“I don’t know if it was a staff meeting or if he had access to a briefing or he was just basing his assessment on a large number of published reports, but Mr. Trump obviously knew that Russia was engaged in malicious cyberactivity that was helping him and hurting Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” Earnest said.

Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that Trump’s campaign had no contact with Russian hackers.

“Absolutely not. Those conversations never happened,” Conway said, calling claims otherwise “inaccurate and false and dangerous” and saying they “undermine the democracy.”

John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the election “was distorted by the Russian intervention.”

“It’s very much unknown whether there was collusion,” Podesta said. “So I think really not what Mr. Trump knew, but what did Trump Inc. know and when did they know it, were they in touch with the Russians? I think those are still open questions.”