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Trump’s criticism of intelligence on Russia is dividing Hill GOP

President-elect Donald Trump’s broadside against the intelligence community is dividing Capitol Hill Republicans, with some ready to pounce on Trump’s skepticism that Russia interfered with the U.S. elections and others urging a more cautious approach.

The resulting schism could widen as Congress begins probing the CIA’s charges that Russia intervened in the November elections to help Trump, potentially becoming one of the first significant intraparty breaches of the Trump presidency.

U.S. critics of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, such as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), want to go full-bore on holding Russia to account for its suspected election interference. But they may be slowed by GOP senators who prefer to wait to hear the intelligence community’s evidence and for Trump to be installed in the White House.

When asked whether he would be influenced by Trump’s Tuesday tweet about a supposedly delayed “Intelligence” briefing on “so-called” Russian hacking, McCain said flatly, “No.”

McCain will hold a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday on “foreign cyber threats” that is expected to center on Russia. Intelligence officials — including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Marcel J. Lettre II and U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers — will testify, and some Republicans are hoping they will present evidence that Russia meddled in the elections.

“The point of this hearing is to have the intelligence community reinforce, from their point of view, that the Russians did this,” Graham said. “You seem to have two choices now — some guy living in an embassy, on the run from the law for rape, who has a history of undermining American democracy and releasing classified information to put our troops at risk, or the 17 intelligence agencies sworn to defend us. I’m going with them.”

Graham was referring to Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder accused of helping Russia leak emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. He has few fans in Congress — on Wednesday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) called Assange a “sycophant for Russia.”

Assange has denied he received leaked emails from the Russians. Trump echoed Assange in a tweet Tuesday in which he said “a 14-year-old could have hacked Podesta,” referring to Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman, John Podesta. Trump also tweeted support for Assange’s comment that the media is “dishonest.”

Assange’s first claim may be narrowly accurate — Russia’s intelligence services used middlemen to deliver the purloined files, said senior U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. But U.S. spy agencies are in full agreement that Russia directed the hacking and orchestrated email dumps to WikiLeaks to help Trump win — a finding at the heart of a classified assessment completed this week.

Trump’s online endorsement of Assange is his latest insult to the U.S. intelligence community and is likely to intensify the antagonism between the president-elect and U.S. spy agencies. He has repeatedly disparaged their work and skipped most of the daily briefings prepared for a future White House occupant.

CIA veterans said the level of open hostility is extraordinary. “I can’t think of any transition during my career as seemingly fraught as this one,” said John Rizzo, the CIA’s former acting general counsel.

Trump is slated to meet with U.S. spy-masters this week when Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James B. Comey brief him in New York on the intelligence surrounding Russia’s involvement in the election hacks. Trump’s pick to head the National Security Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, will probably be present, adding to the tension — he was fired by Clapper as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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In Washington, the Armed Services Committee hearing will give intelligence chiefs an early chance to publicly contradict Trump’s position. But some committee Republicans said it was appropriate at this point for Trump to be openly challenging the assertions of intelligence officials.

“You live by the sword, then be prepared to fight by the sword,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), referring to the intelligence community. “You release information before you’re prepared to put out the facts, then be prepared for people to react to that.”

“The intelligence community some time ago back said they had compelling evidence that there was an issue,” Tillis said. “Well, maybe they should have waited and leaked that when they could produce the evidence, and then they could have eliminated this whole discourse.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will also hear from State Department officials Thursday in a closed-door briefing to kick off its investigation into Russian hacking.

Clapper’s office on Thursday will brief President Obama on a promised classified report into the allegations of Russian hacking; Trump will then be briefed on it Friday.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) suggested it was natural for Trump to be skeptical until that briefing, given he is not yet president. She also implied that some transition politics between Obama and Trump’s teams may be at work. “Mr. Trump hasn’t been briefed by the intelligence community is my understanding,” Fischer said. “There is a report that’s coming out, and the president has frozen all briefings. I’ve tried to have a classified briefing before the hearing and I was told that was not possible, that it’s been frozen.”

“Hopefully, [the Obama] administration will give access to the Congress as well,” Fischer said. “This is the first time I’ve been turned down for a classified briefing, and I’ve been on the committee four years.”

Congressional Republicans, with a few exceptions, are far more skeptical of Russia than Trump has been during and since the campaign, when he praised Putin and touted the benefits of friendlier relations. Even those willing to give Trump some room on the issue say Russia is a bad actor, citing Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, its bombing campaign in Syria and continued aggression against border states in Europe.

Republicans are staking their hopes on the idea that once Trump takes office, he will come around to their point of view on the Kremlin. “It’s good to question our intelligence community. I have no problem with him being skeptical. But just listen with an open mind,” Graham said, offering Trump unsolicited advice for his Friday briefing. “When General Mattis said ‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a cold beer, I can get more information than waterboarding,’ that impressed the president-elect,” he added, referencing Trump’s pick for defense secretary, James Mattis. “I’m hoping after Friday he will be more convinced.”

Senior Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have stressed the need for investigations into Russia’s activities, expressing support for existing sanctions as well as the pursuit of additional punitive measures.

McCain, Graham and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) all said Wednesday that they were in discussions with Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Democrat, to join forces behind a bill, expected this week, to impose sanctions against Russia. The sanctions in Cardin’s bill address Russia’s alleged election-related hacks, its interference in Ukraine and its conduct in the Syrian war, which Secretary of State John F. Kerry said last year warrants a war-crimes investigation.

The bipartisan heads of the Senate’s Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Intelligence committees met Wednesday to coordinate how to conduct the Russian-hacking investigation over the next weeks and months. Following the meeting, Democrats expressed hope that Trump’s attacks on the intelligence community would not complicate their efforts.

“The most important role of the intelligence community is to speak truth to power,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), lead Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, noting that Trump’s “rather dismissive attitude of the intelligence community” concerns him. “There is broad-based bipartisan concern that we’ve got to do this investigation in an appropriate manner as quickly as possible,” Warner added.

EU expert: Sir Ivan Rogers wasn’t a pessimist about Brexit — ‘he was just doing his job’

Anand Menon.Anand Menon.IIEA1/YouTube

LONDON — Sir Ivan Rogers was a realist, not a pessimist, and was simply doing his job by warning that the Brexit process could take up to a decade.

That is according to Anand Menon, director at independent research organisation UK In A Changing Europe, who spoke to Business Insider after the shock resignation of Rogers as British ambassador to the EU on Tuesday.

In his resignation letter, Rogers appeared to suggest that his growing frustration with the government’s approach to Brexit negotiation played at least some part in his decision to leave the position before exit talks get underway at the end of March.

He encouraged fellow civil servants to “speak truth to those in power” by challenging “ill-founded arguments” and “muddled thinking,” in what appeared to be a thinly-veiled swipe at Theresa May and the Brexit ministers.

Rogers, who was appointed the UK Permanent Representative to the European Union by David Cameron in 2013, became a target for the right-wing press and pro-Leave Tory MPs for claiming a UK-EU free trade deal could take 10 years to negotiate and put into effect.

Menon, who is also a Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at Kings College, told Business Insider on Wednesday morning that Rogers was right in his warning, despite the protestations of Brexiteers in the Commons.

“It’s the job of a civil servant to point out what the potential risks are in any course of action,” he said.

“He was just doing his job. He was reported as saying the process could take 10 years. Well, I think that’s probably quite accurate. Signing a trade deal with the European Union is going to take a lot of time, simply due to the nature of politics. There will be vested interests involved, everybody will be trying to get the best deal for their own narrow set of interests, and that tends to take time.”

“I have no criticisms of him in that score. He just showed the type of perspective civil servants should be showing.”

He added that the experienced diplomat was clearly becoming more unhappy in his role as Article 50 talks between Britain and European leaders approached. “It seems to me that he was just feeling increasingly uncomfortable in his role. The role he was given when appointed by David Cameron is a very different role to the one he was being asked to do now [under Theresa May]. He was clearly growing impatient.”

Menon was keen to stress, however, that although Rogers’ departure came at a bad time for Theresa May, what it could mean for the government’s negotiating team and Brexit process as a whole is being blown out of proportion.

“Rogers is someone with a lot of contacts in Brussels, but we’ve got quite a big diplomatic service and he’s not irreplaceable. If he was getting genuinely frustrated with what the government was doing and how it was doing it then it might be better for all that he steps down.”

He added: “I think there’s been a slightly hysterical reaction to him going, to be honest.”

On whether the rush to find a successor will delay the prime minister in invoking Article 50, Menon said: “No, I don’t think so. May has set herself a deadline and I don’t think she has any intention of missing it. I think the signal that would send out would be very negative. She is trying to present herself as being an organised, controlled prime minister and missing your own deadline would undermine that significantly.”

Menon and his colleagues at UK In A Changing Europe spend time observing the organs of government, particularly Whitehall, where May could choose to find Rogers’ replacement. The civil service has suffered from continual downsizing over recent years, and according to recent studies is struggling to manage the sheer workload of Brexit.

Menon acknowledges that Whitehall has a “serious issue when it comes to resources” but predicted that the prime minister shouldn’t encounter many problems in finding a replacement before Article 50 talks begin.

“A few names are being banded about at the moment. Some people are saying a traditional appointment like a senior civil servant. Alex Ellis is being touted as a possibility. It might be that Theresa May goes completely leftfield and decides not to take on a career civil servant or career diplomat. Ultimately, It’s up to her. There are senior civil servants working on the Brexit process at home, so I don’t think she’ll struggle to find somebody to work on it in Brussels.”

Indian police investigate New Year sex attacks

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There is “credible” evidence that gangs of men sexually assaulted women at a New Year’s Eve celebration in Bangalore, Indian police said Wednesday, adding they have filed a criminal case over the incident.

Praveen Sood, the police commissioner of Bangalore city, said an inquiry had been set up into allegations women attending the Saturday night celebrations were chased, groped, molested and robbed.

The announcement followed a public outcry over comments by a local minister blaming the attacks in the southern city — an IT hub considered relatively safe for women — on “western dress”.

Indian police have set up an inquiry into allegations that women in Bangalore were molested after viewing footage from CCTV cameras

Indian police have set up an inquiry into allegations that women in Bangalore were molested after viewing footage from CCTV cameras ©STR (AFP/File)

“We did not waste any time,” Sood told reporters, saying police had registered a criminal case without waiting for a complainant.

“The police teams are working, we are sure we will catch the culprits.”

Additional police commissioner Hemant Nimbalkar told AFP the case had been filed against unnamed persons for sexual harassment, illegal confinement and forcefully attempting to disrobe.

Police officers have been sifting through footage from at least 45 CCTV cameras installed in the city centre where hundreds of revellers had gathered to celebrate the new year.

India has been shamed in the past by shocking levels of sexual assault against women, notably in December 2012 when a student was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi and later died of her injuries.

Indians took to social media to condemn the latest incident, dubbed “night of horror”.

” only shows how casual it is to molest women” tweeted Falguni Vasavada-Oza.

“How easy it is to grope! How vulnerable is safety! How deep is (d) hierarchy.”

Video footage circulated on social media showed women screaming for help.

The attacks in Bangalore have drawn comparison with last year’s mass sexual assaults at New Year’s celebrations in the German city of Cologne, where police were also accused of losing control.

Trump’s North Korea red line could come back to haunt him

WASHINGTON In three words of a tweet this week, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump vowed North Korea would never test an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“It won’t happen!” Trump wrote after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Sunday his nuclear-capable country was close to testing an ICBM of a kind that could someday hit the United States.

Preventing such a test is far easier said than done, and Trump gave no indication of how he might roll back North Korea’s weapons programs after he takes office on Jan. 20, something successive U.S. administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have failed to do.

Former U.S. officials and other experts said the United States essentially had two options when it came to trying to curb North Korea’s fast-expanding nuclear and missile programs – negotiate or take military action.

Neither path offers certain success and the military option is fraught with huge dangers, especially for Japan and South Korea, U.S. allies in close proximity to North Korea.

The Republican president-elect complained in a separate tweet that China, North Korea’s neighbor and only ally, was not helping to contain Pyongyang – despite China’s support for successive rounds of U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang.

While many critics, including within President Barack Obama’s administration, agreed China could press North Korea harder, the State Department said it did not agree with Trump’s assessment that China was not helping.

Experts said Trump’s tough stance toward Beijing on issues from trade to Taiwan could prove counterproductive in securing greater Chinese cooperation.

James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, said that with his North Korea tweet, Trump had drawn a red line he could later be judged by, like Obama’s 2012 warning to Syria over the use of chemical weapons.

“This was a foolhardy tweet for Trump to send given the enormous challenges of constraining North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. I think this could be something that comes back to haunt him.”


THREE OPTIONS

U.S. officials, who did not want to be identified, said that if ordered, the U.S. military had three options to respond to a North Korean missile test – a pre-emptive strike before it is launched, intercepting the missile in flight, or allowing a launch to take place unhindered.

One official, who did not wish to be named, said there were risks with pre-emptive action, including the possibility of striking the wrong target – or North Korean retaliation against regional allies.

Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis questioned whether U.S. missile defenses could shoot down a test missile, absent a lucky shot, and said destroying North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs would be a huge and risky undertaking.


Lewis, at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, said it would require “a large military campaign … over a fairly substantial period of time.”

He noted that North Korea’s main nuclear and missile test sites were on different sides of the country and factories that supplied them were scattered over several provinces.

“There’s a warren of tunnels under the nuclear site. And an ICBM can be launched from anywhere in the country because it’s mobile. You might as well invade the country,” Lewis said.

Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, writing on cnn.com, said he hoped Trump’s administration would impose “secondary sanctions” on firms and entities that help North Korea’s weapons programs, many of which were in China.

‘PERIOD OF SERIOUS SANCTIONS’

While Trump has not detailed his policy approach to North Korea, an adviser to his transition team told Reuters he believed “a period of serious sanctions” had “to be a major part of any discussion on the options available here.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday the United States had not ruled out additional sanctions, but added: “Let’s not get ahead of where we are.”

Victor Cha, who was an aide to former Republican President George W. Bush, said he believed Trump was serious about not letting North Korea have nuclear-capable ICBMs that could threaten the U.S. mainland.

“How to stop this is of course difficult. It’s a combination of diplomacy (to get a freeze), sanctions (Chinese ones and Treasury), moving more military assets to the region for extended deterrence, strike options, and integrated missile defense. That’s what would be on my menu,” he said.

Frank Jannuzi, a former State Department official who heads the Mansfield Foundation Asia dialogue forum, said Trump’s vow could prove as hollow as Obama’s pledge not to tolerate North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

“I worry … that it only emboldens the North, because they see it for what it is: empty talk,” he said. “It lays down a red line. … We don’t seem prepared to back up.”

He said North Korea had long defied U.S. and U.N. sanctions to pursue its nuclear and missile programs, and added: “One hundred and forty characters from Donald Trump aren’t going to change that.”

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)