NEW YORK -- The outgoing CIA director said Sunday that Donald Trump lacks a full understanding of the threat Moscow poses to the United States, delivering a public lecture to the president-elect that further highlighted the state of Trump's relations with American intelligence agencies.
John Brennan's pointed message on national television came just five days before Trump becomes the nation's 45th president amid lingering questions about Russia's role in the 2016 election, even as the focus shifts to the challenges of governing.
"Now that he's going to have an opportunity to do something for our national security as opposed to talking and tweeting, he's going to have tremendous responsibility to make sure that U.S. and national security interests are protected," Brennan said on Fox News Sunday, warning that the president-elect's impulsivity could be dangerous.
"Spontaneity is not something that protects national security interests," Brennan declared.
Trump, who has unleashed a series of tweets against the U.S. intelligence community and his political rivals in recent weeks, did not respond to Brennan's criticism.
But later Sunday, he retweeted a journalist's remark that the intelligence community owes Trump an apology for briefing him on a document that contains unverified financial and personal information that could be damaging to the president-elect.
"Media should apologize also" for reporting on the document and the briefing, Trump wrote. The Associated Press has not been able to verify the contents of the document.
On Wednesday Trump accused the national security apparatus of being behind the leak by BuzzFeed of unverified and salacious reports connecting Trump to Russia. The president-elect asked in a Twitter post, "are we living in Nazi Germany?"
"What I do find outrageous is equating the intelligence community with Nazi Germany," said Brennan, who served in the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. "I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly."
"There is no interest in undermining the president-elect," he added.
The information released had circulated in the intelligence community and within some news organizations for months and received occasional, scant treatment in the media, but it was only published in full by BuzzFeed on Wednesday.
The president-elect remained in his Manhattan high-rise Sunday. His team worked to answer questions about his plans at home and abroad once he's sworn into office on Friday.
Among Trump's immediate challenges: the United States' complicated relationship with Russia, crafting an affordable health care alternative that doesn't strip coverage from millions of Americans, and growing questions about the legitimacy of his presidency.
Without providing details, Trump promised his plan to replace the nation's health care law would provide universal coverage, according to a Washington Post interview published late Sunday.
"We're going to have insurance for everybody," he said. "There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us."
Civil-rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is among several Democrats in Congress who vowed to skip Trump's inauguration, charging that Russian interference in the 2016 election delegitimizes his presidency.
"There will be many more members who join us in this decision," Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., wrote Saturday on his Facebook page.
Trump's lieutenants pushed back hard Sunday in a round of television interviews.
"I think it's incredibly disappointing and I think it's irresponsible for people like himself to question the legitimacy of the next United States president," Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, said of Lewis on ABC's This Week, insisting that Republicans did not question the legitimacy of President Barack Obama's victory eight years ago. Vice President-elect Mike Pence said on Fox News Sunday that he hopes Lewis will change his mind and attend.
Priebus acknowledged Lewis' "historic contribution to civil rights and voting rights" but said his doubts about Trump's legitimacy are "insanity" and "incredibly disappointing."
"I think President Obama should step up," he said, praising the cooperation from the White House on other transition issues. "I think the administration can do a lot of good by telling folks that are on the Republican side of the aisle: Look, we may have lost the election on the Democratic side, but it's time to come together."
Many Democrats have bristled at the GOP calls to quietly accept Trump's presidency, pointing to the president-elect's prominent role in promoting the "birther" movement to question whether Obama was born in the United States. Trump refused to unequivocally accept Obama's status as a natural-born U.S. citizen until September -- less than two months before Election Day -- and has never apologized for his role in spreading doubts.
"What [Democrats] are right about is to talk about the racist past of Donald Trump," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Sunday, also on ABC. "We all remember that Trump was one of the leaders of so-called birther movement trying to delegitimize the presidency of our first African-American president, Barack Obama, which is an outrage."
Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, said Obama is "not going to get in the middle of this right now."
"The president has made very clear that he believes that [Trump] is the freely elected president," he said. "He will be inaugurated on Friday. And he will come into office hopefully strengthened by the kind of transition that we have tried to run in this White House."
Questions about Trump's relationship with Russia have also been raised in the days leading up to his inauguration.
Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who is set to become Trump's national security adviser, has been in frequent contact with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. in recent weeks, including on the day the Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for the alleged election hacking, a senior U.S. official said.
After initially denying the contact took place, Trump's team publicly acknowledged the conversations on Sunday.
"The conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to the new U.S. sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats," Pence said.
Brennan admonished Trump, who's recently suggested he might lift sanctions on Russia, "to be mindful that he doesn't yet, I think, have a full appreciation/understanding of what the implications are of such a move" amid Russia's actions in Ukraine, Syria and online. He added that Trump "needs to be very, very careful."
Pence said that cooperation on counterterrorism was at the heart of Trump's willingness to "explore the possibility of better relations" with Russia.
"We have a common enemy in ISIS," said Pence, using another name for the terrorist group Islamic State. "The ability to work with Russia to confront, hunt down, and destroy ISIS at its source represents an enormously important priority of this incoming administration."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Sunday that classified briefings had laid out a "very sophisticated effort" by Moscow to impede Hillary Clinton's campaign and "altered the outcome" of the election.
Feinstein did not specifically say whether she thought Clinton would have won absent the Russian actions, but strongly suggested that she believed Clinton would have.
"It altered the outcome -- that's what I believe," Feinstein said on NBC's Meet the Press. "I have been astonished at what has been a two-year effort at Russia to spearfish, to hack, to provide disinformation, propaganda, wherever it really could. And I think this has been a very sophisticated effort."
A pending Senate investigation into the matter must be "full and robust," she said. If it is not, she and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, would push for an outside investigator.
"We cannot ignore what has happened," she said. "To ignore it is really to commit ourselves to a very bad future."
To supporters, Trump's handling of this transition period is proof that the political novice-turned-president-elect plans to follow through on his campaign promises to take a sledgehammer to Washington's traditional ways.
"The American people voted for change," Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said. "He is the instrument of that change."
David Axelrod, a longtime political adviser to Obama, cast doubt on whether that was something Trump could do. He pointed to Trump's postelection "thank you" tour that took the Republican only to states he won.
"It might not be within his emotional range to be a unifying figure," Axelrod said. He acknowledged that some Democrats might resist any overtures from Trump, though he said total resistance would not serve his party well either.
Advisers and others who have spoken with Trump since the election say that despite his combative public presence during the transition, he's aware of the grand sweep of history as he approaches the presidency. He's told friends that he's drawn to both the ambition and style of Presidents Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and John F. Kennedy, a Democrat.
Trump is said to have become particularly fixated on veterans issues, evaluating numerous candidates to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs before settling on David Shulkin, an Obama nominee who is a VA undersecretary. The president-elect said he interviewed "at least 100 people" for the job, though aides said that was an exaggeration.
Ethics official warned
Priebus said Sunday that the top U.S. ethics official "ought to be careful" after publicly criticizing the president-elect's plan to step down from leading his businesses while keeping his ownership interests.
"That person is becoming extremely political," Priebus said Sunday of Walter Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics.
"I'm not sure what this person at Government Ethics, what sort of standing he has any more to be giving these opinions," Priebus said on ABC's This Week.
In announcing his plan on Wednesday, Trump said his two adult sons would run the company and would take steps to limit any conflicts, including a ban on new international business deals. He also said his hotels would pay any profits derived from foreign governments' spending to the U.S. Treasury.
Hours later, Shaub said at the Brookings Institution that Trump's plan to step down from leadership roles while still owning the business was "meaningless from a conflicts-of-interest perspective.
"We can't risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for personal profits," Shaub said.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, responded by telling Shaub in a letter that he overstepped his mandate as ethics director. Chaffetz summoned Shaub for an meeting later this month to explain his actions.
Information for this article was contributed by Steve Peoples, Laurie Kellman, Julie Pace and Emily Swanson of The Associated Press; Ben Brody, Miles Weiss and Laurie Asseo of Bloomberg News; Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post; and Cathleen Decker of the Los Angeles Times.
A Section on 01/16/2017
Print Headline: CIA director blasts Trump over Russians; President-elect’s impulsivity dangerous, Brennan warns