Cyber Command Chief Admiral Mike Rogers testified to Congress Thursday that he is worried the intelligence community might resign en masse if officials feel they don’t have the confidence of President-elect Donald Trump. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearing on Russia’s interference in the presidential election, Rogers and National Intelligence Director James Clapper both obliquely warned the president-elect about consequences from his critiques of the intelligence community.
The motivation to serve in U.S. intelligence is “driven in no small part by confidence from our leaders,” Rogers said. Without that, Rogers cautioned, there could be “a situation where our workforce decides to walk.” Clapper added there is an “important distinction” between “healthy skepticism” of intelligence assessments and “disparagement.” Neither mentioned Trump’s name, but there’s little doubt they were referring to him and his recent tweets.
Trump publicly mocked the intelligence community on Twitter this week for supposedly delaying an intelligence briefing on what he called the “so-called ‘Russia hacking’” related to the presidential election (the White House said the briefing had always been scheduled for Friday). Trump and his team have loudly contested any suggestion that the Russian government was behind hacks into senior Democratic officials during the campaign.
“I know a lot about hacking,” Trump told reporters last weekend. “And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else.” Trump has also repeatedly cited the flawed 2002 intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as reason to doubt any assessment. At a press conference Thursday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to split the difference, saying the intelligence community doesn’t “always get everything right” but acknowledging that “Russia clearly tried to meddle in our political system.”
After the election, President Obama asked the intelligence community to prepare a report on Russia’s alleged attempts to undermine the election through cyberattacks and dissemination of online political propaganda and whether they intended to sway the election to Trump. The heads of the Central intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Director of National Intelligence will all travel to New York City tomorrow to present that report to the incoming president.
Clapper revealed Thursday that the intelligence community would also release a declassified version of their report Monday because “the public should know as much as possible.” It was notable because Clapper hasn’t always been so forthcoming with the public.
Whether Trump ultimately agrees with the intelligence community’s conclusion or not, several Republican senators have said Congress will pursue its own investigation. Thursday’s hearing was the first of what Republican Committee Chairman John McCain said would be a “series.”
Some Republicans don’t seemed enthused about such an investigation. Most Republican senators on the committee focused on America’s domestic cyber capabilities rather than Russia’s alleged interference. One Republican who did mention it, North Carolina Republican Thom Thillis, suggested that any election interference from Russia was a consequence of the United States’ past interference in other countries’ elections. The US might be a “glass house” because it interfered in over 80 elections whereas Russia had only interfered in 36, Thillis said citing a Carnegie Mellon-affiliated database tally.
Meanwhile Democrats used the hearing to repeatedly praise the American intelligence community and criticize the president-elect. There would be “howls” from the Republicans if a Democrat were “trashing” the intelligence community like Trump is, Senator Claire McCaskill said.