Friday 23 June 2017

'Very strange!' - Donald Trump criticises intelligence officials as he prepares to take office

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Steve Peoples

Donald Trump has raised new doubts about his nation's intelligence community, tweeting fresh criticism at the officials who will help inform his most sensitive decisions once he takes office.

With his inauguration less than three weeks away, the president-elect claimed on Twitter without evidence that the timing of an upcoming intelligence briefing on Russian interference in the 2016 election had been delayed.

He wrote: "The 'Intelligence' briefing on so-called 'Russian hacking' was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!"

The jibe, in line with repeated criticism of US intelligence, caused confusion among intelligence officials, who said there was no delay in the briefing schedule.

The fresh clash came as Mr Trump took further steps to fill his Cabinet and key White House positions, with his attention shifting toward the challenges of governing.

Earlier on Tuesday, he chose as US trade representative a former official in Ronald Reagan's administration who has condemned the Republicans' commitment to free trade.

Mr Trump indicated that Robert Lighthizer, who is expected to take a hard line against China, would represent "the United States as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first".

The tycoon also questioned the timing of the House Republican push to gut an independent ethics board just as the new Congress gathered.

He tweeted: "Do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority?"

The House Republicans later dropped the attempt.

The president-elect has spent much of the last two months huddled privately with advisers and communicating with the public through Twitter. But he has now promised to hold his first formal news conference since winning the election, next week in New York.

The Republican businessman has already waited longer than any other president-elect in the modern era to hold his first news conference. Most have held such events within days of their elections.

It was unclear if the news conference would be the venue for his delayed announcement on how he plans to avoid potential conflicts of interest involving his businesses after taking office.

Mr Trump was supposed to set out the arrangements at a December news conference, but he postponed the announcement.

With his Cabinet nearly full, Mr Trump also picked a handful of new White House aides on Tuesday as he worked to fill several hundred high-level administration posts.

Omarosa Manigault, a contestant from the first season of The Apprentice, is expected to focus on public engagement in the White House.

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