US intelligence chief on Trump: 'There's a difference between skepticism and disparagement'

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested at a congressional hearing Thursday that President-elect Donald Trump is disparaging the US intelligence community as he refuses to acknowledge Russia's role in election-related hacking.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, asked Clapper during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing who "benefits" from Trump "trashing the intelligence community" as he expresses skepticism about intelligence assessments that show Russia was involved in hacking Democratic Party organizations in an attempt to influence the election.

Clapper noted that he is "apolitical" and then cautioned against disparaging the intelligence community.

23 PHOTOS
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
See Gallery
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "Worldwide threats to America and our allies" in Capitol Hill, Washington February 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, left, and Director of the National Security Agency Admiral Michael S. Rogers, talk before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled 'Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States,' January 5, 2016.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, prepares to testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled 'Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States,' January 5, 2016.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement accompanied by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (R) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford after a meeting with Obama's national security team at the Treasury Department in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and United States Cyber Command and National Security Agency Director Admiral Michael Rogers prepare to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. The intelligence chiefs testified to the committee about cyber threats to the United States and fielded questions about effects of Russian government hacking on the 2016 presidential election.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyber threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 5, 2017.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement at the National Counterterrorism Center in Mclean, Virginia, December 17, 2015. Standing with the President (L-R) are: Nicholas Rasmussen, Director, National Counterterrorism Center, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, James Clapper, Director, Office of National Intelligence, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary John Kerry, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and James Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigations.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

CIA Director John Brennan (L) and the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, (R) prepare to testify at a House (Select) Intelligence Committee hearing on "World Wide Cyber Threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington September 10, 2015.

(REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies about 'world wide cyber threats' during an open hearing of the House (Select) Intelligence Committee at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center September 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. Clapper said that the budget uncertainty of sequestration has posed a challenge to how the United States faces cyber attacks from countries like China that could undermine U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence (R), enters the hearing room with the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services chairman, John McCain, (R-AZ) (C) at the Dirksen Senate Office Building February 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. Clapper and Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart , the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, both testified on a range of topics including Muslim extremist groups and cyber threats to U.S. security.

(Photo by Evy Mages/Getty Images)

US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) greets French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve prior to meetings at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in McLean, Virginia, February 19, 2015.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

James Clapper (L), Director of National Intelligence listens to testimony during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, October 2, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony on oversight of the foreign intelligence surveillance act.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Director of US National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano (R) share a few words before US President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on June 21, 2013 to announce his nomination of Jim Comey to be the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Comey, a deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, would replace Robert Mueller, who is stepping down from the agency he has led since the week before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

(PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper (3rd R) leaves a joint closed door meeting with the Senate and House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, on June 7, 2012 in Washington, DC. The joint Intelligence committee met with Clapper to discuss administration leaks of classified information.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

From left, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director David Petraeus take their seats for the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee hearing on 'World Wide Threats' on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In this photo provided by The White House, (L-R) National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper listen as Leon Panetta, Director of the CIA speaks during a meeting in the Situation Room on May 1, 2012 in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama's national security team held a series of meeting to discuss Osama bin Laden.

(Photo by Pete Souza/White House Photo via Getty Images)

US Director for National Intelligence James Clapper (L) speaks with FBI Director Robert Mueller at the launch of the strategy to combat transnational organized crime at the White House in Washington on July 25, 2011. The United States Monday unveiled a series of sanctions aimed at cracking down on international organized crime, including gangs from Russia, Japan and Mexico and the Italian Mafia.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and FBI Director Robert Mueller testify during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee February 16, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was to discuss the U.S. intelligence community's assessment of threats to national security.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee February 16, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was to discuss the U.S. intelligence community's assessment of threats to national security.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, Office of National Intelligence Director James Clapper, Centeral Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta testify before the the House (Select) Committee on Intelligence at the U.S. Capitol February 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. While testifying to the committee, Panetta confirmed that he had intelligence that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may be stepping down today. The U.S. intelligence leaders testified to the committee in an open hearing about 'world wide threats' before moving into a closed briefing.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama stands alongside retired General James Clapper, Obama's nominee for director of national intelligence, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, June 5, 2010.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The Senate Select Intelligence Committee holds a confirmation hearing to hear the testimony of nominee James Clapper to fill the vacancy of director of National Intelligence (DNI), on Capitol Hill Tuesday July 20, 2010.

(Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images) 

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"I think there is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policymakers ... should always have for intelligence, but I think there's a difference between skepticism and disparagement," Clapper said.

McCaskill said America's adversaries would benefit from a US president doubting the country's intelligence apparatus. A report from The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday said Trump was planning to restructure the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA, though Trump's team denied those plans Thursday.

"I assume that the biggest benefactors ... are in fact the actors you have named today," she said. "Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, and ISIS."

Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain asked Clapper how he would describe WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose organization published hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Assange has insisted that the hacked material did not come from Russia, a claim Trump has repeated in recent days.

"Well, he's holed up the Ecuadorean embassy in London because he's under indictment I believe by the Swedish government for a sexual crime," Clapper said. "He has in the interest of ostensibly openness and transparency ... put people at risk by his doing that. So I don't think those in the intelligence community have a whole lot of respect for them."

Swedish authorities have issued a warrant for Assange's arrest based on a rape allegation against him, but he has not been formally indicted.

22 PHOTOS
Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions
See Gallery
Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions

Counselor to the President: Kellyanne Conway

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Veterans Affairs Secretary: David Shulkin

(Photo credit DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Transportation secretary: Elaine Chao

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Energy secretary: Rick Perry

(Photo credit KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson

 REUTERS/Daniel Kramer

Secretary of Defense: Retired Marine General James Mattis

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Chief of staff: Reince Priebus

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Chief strategist: Steve Bannon

(EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Attorney General: Senator Jeff Sessions

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Director of the CIA: Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Deputy national security adviser: K.T. McFarland

(Photo by Michael Schwartz/Getty Images)

White House counsel: Donald McGahn

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ambassador to the United Nations: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

(Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Education secretary: Betsy DeVos

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Commerce secretary: Wilbur Ross

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Homeland security secretary: General John Kelly

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Housing and urban development secretary: Ben Carson

(Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Health and human services secretary: Tom Price

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Department of Homeland Security: Retired General John Kelly

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Secretary of agriculture: Sonny Perdue

(BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

NOW WATCH: 11 facts that show how different Russia is from the rest of the world

See Also:

SEE ALSO: Top US intelligence officials: 'Only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized' election-related hacking

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.