Washington (AFP) – President-elect Donald Trump condemned Russia critics on Saturday, calling those who oppose better relations with Moscow “stupid” people and “fools” in his latest Twitter tirade.
His attack comes a day after the Republican president-elect met the country’s leading intelligence agency chiefs — including the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and CIA chief John Brennan — who told him that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a vast cyberattack and leaking campaign aimed at helping install Trump in the White House.
“Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing,” he tweeted on Saturday. “Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think that it is bad!”
“When I am President,” he added, “Russia will respect us far more than they do now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!”
But the formal announcement of former Indiana Senator Dan Coats as Trump’s pick for US director of national intelligence, also on Saturday, may go at least a little toward reassuring those critical of Trump’s praise for Putin and desire to improve relations with Moscow.
A mild-mannered former ambassador to Germany who also served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Coats, 73, has been a vocal critic of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
He was widely tipped for the job coordinating 16 intelligence and security agencies — a position Trump may slim down.
“Dan has clearly demonstrated the deep subject matter expertise and sound judgment required to lead our intelligence community,” Trump said in a statement.
“If confirmed as Director of National Intelligence, he will provide unwavering leadership that the entire intelligence community can respect, and will spearhead my administration’s ceaseless vigilance against those who seek to do us harm.”
Trump accuses Democrats
After their meeting with Trump on Friday about findings that undermine the legitimacy of his election, intelligence officials released a declassified report describing an unprecedented Russian cyberattack as part of an ongoing effort to subvert American democratic institutions.
Although Trump accepted the possibility that Moscow was involved in hacking US targets including the Democratic National Committee, the president-elect held fast to his rejection of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the election.
He told the New York Times before the meeting that the accusations are part of a “political witch-hunt” against him.
He blamed Democrats for the hacking, accusing the Democratic National Committee of “gross negligence” in another series of tweets on Saturday.
“Only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!”
Trump, who has ridiculed the country’s intelligence agencies, repeated his view that the findings show “absolutely no evidence” any hacking affected the election results. “Voting machines not touched!”
Moscow denies the hacking accusations.
On Saturday, a top Russian lawmaker accused US President Barack Obama’s administration of undermining US democracy instead.
“The Democratic process in the United States is undermined not by Russia, but by the Obama administration and the media which supported (Democratic nominee Hillary) Clinton against Trump, Alexei Pushkov, former parliamentary foreign relations committee chairman, tweeted.” The threat to democracy is the United States.”
Blacklisted by Moscow
Coats — who served as a Republican senator from Indiana from 1989 to 1999, and then from 2011 to the end of his term on Tuesday — was one of six US legislators and three White House aides blacklisted by Moscow in 2014 in reprisal for US sanctions placed on the country for its seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
The former senator, who had advocated tough sanctions against Moscow, has called the ban an honor.
He was US ambassador to Germany from 2001 to 2005 under the George W. Bush administration, and served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as well as economy-related committees during the past six years.
He welcomed his nomination on Saturday.
“There is no higher priority than keeping America safe, and I will utilize every tool at my disposal to make that happen,” he said in a statement.
His nomination must pass Senate confirmation.
Created after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the DNI oversees coordination between disparate agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and others, acting as the president’s principal adviser on their work.
US media reported earlier this week that Trump’s transition team is working on a plan to scale down the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
However, the incoming White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, has called the reports “false.”