U.S. President-elect Donald Trump says the Central Intelligence Agency’s conclusion that Russia interfered in last month's presidential election to boost his chances of winning was "ridiculous," calling it "just another excuse" by Democrats for his upset of former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
"I don't believe it. If you take a look at what (the CIA) said, there's great confusion," Trump said Sunday. "Nobody really knows. They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace."
Trump told Fox News that he does not oppose President Barack Obama's order to review cyberattacks the CIA concluded came from Russia during the lengthy presidential campaign, but said "you should not just say 'Russia.' You should say other countries also, and maybe other individuals." The CIA said it had "high confidence" that Russia sought to help Trump win.
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U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the final stretch of the presidential campaign to help Trump win the presidency, and not simply meddle in the U.S. electoral process as previously believed, according to senior Obama administration officials. The conclusion is based to some extent on a finding that Russians hacked the Republican National Committee's computer systems, in addition to those of Democratic organizations, but disclosed only embarrassing emails from the Democrats, via WikiLeaks.
Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee and Trump's pick for White House chief of staff, told ABC News the party was not hacked.
"The entire report is based on unnamed sources who are perhaps doing something they shouldn't be doing by speaking to reporters or someone talking out of line about something that is absolutely not true," Priebus said Sunday.
Bipartisan call for bipartisan probe
The Republican Trump's rejection of the CIA conclusion came as the party's losing 2008 presidential nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, and three other senators called for an investigation into Moscow's interference in the election, saying that it "should alarm every American." McCain, along with Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrats Jack Reed and Chuck Schumer, said the United States needs to stop "the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security."
Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, tweeted that he agreed with his colleagues that an investigation into possible Russian interference in the election should not be partisan.
But Lankford, who sits on Senate homeland security and intelligence committees, also said in interviews on CNN and Fox News that there is no evidence Russian hackers influenced election results or vote counting.
Even before Trump mocked the CIA conclusion in the Fox interview, his transition team condemned the spy agency, saying, "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction." It said the election was over and "now it's time to move on and 'Make America Great Again.’"
Reservations about top diplomat pick
In the interview, Trump praised ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson, his likely pick as the country's secretary of state, because of the contacts he has across the world and the oil deals he's made with Russia. But McCain and Graham also voiced concern about the selection of the 64-year-old Tillerson and his connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump aides say the president-elect has settled on Tillerson as the top U.S. diplomat after a month-long search although no announcement has been made. Trump, while not confirming the appointment, said Tillerson has the "great advantage" that he knows many world leaders across the globe and "knows them well."
But his longstanding support for free trade and an expansive presence in the Middle East are at odds with positions Trump took during the long U.S. presidential campain.
"He's much more than a business executive," Trump said. "He's a world class player. He's in charge of an oil company that pretty much doubled the size of his next nearest competitor. He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company, not for himself, for the company."
McCain said the choice of Tillerson was "a matter of concern to me."
“You want to give the president of the United States the benefit of the doubt because the people have spoken,” McCain said of the election. “But Vladi¬mir Putin is a thug, a bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.”
After Tillerson's oil agreements with Russia, the Kremlin in 2013 awarded him the Order of Friendship, an honor reserved for foreigners. Tillerson's appointment would have to be confirmed by the Senate, and Graham said that with his award from Russia, "We'll have some questions. I don't want to prejudge the guy, but that's a bit unnerving."
Tillerson, chief executive of the world's largest publicly traded company, oversees operations in more than 50 countries, including Russia. ExxonMobil reached an oil exploration and production agreement in 2011 with Rosneft, Russia's largest state-owned oil company. Since 2011, the two companies have formed 10 joint operations in Russia.
Tillerson met privately with the president-elect Tuesday and again Saturday after recommendations from former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and former defense secretary Robert Gates. A transition official said Trump is impressed with Tillerson's style and experience.