Trump's Cabinet picks appear to have wildly diverging views on Russia

Members of President-elect Donald Trump's transition team appear to have widely disparate views on whether Russia poses a serious threat to American democracy and national security.

The divergence has emerged amid a public discussion — and Trump's skepticism — about the role of Russian hacking in the election.

Trump's pick to lead the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo, for one, is known for his hawkish stance on Russia and criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Related: Trump's official picks for senior administration positions

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Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions
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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)
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Putin "is heck-bent on changing the geopolitical future," Pompeo said at a forum in October 2015, shortly after Russia intervened in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad.

Pompeo criticized Secretary of State John Kerry's reaction to the Russian intervention as too weak. He said Kerry's decision to "deconflict airspace when the Russians attack in the Middle East" was "a change from consistent US policy — Democrat and Republican presidents alike — that said that the Soviets and now Russians will not have a foothold" in the region.

Trump's pick to succeed Kerry as secretary of state, meanwhile, is Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil, who received the Russian Order of Friendship from Putin in 2013 and signed lucrative deals with Russia's state-owned oil company, Rosneft, to drill in the Arctic's Kara Sea.

Tillerson has come under fire from more hawkish members of the Republican Party. When asked on Wednesday if he would support Tillerson's nomination to lead the State Department, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who has called Putin a "thug," replied, "Sure. There's also a realistic scenario that pigs fly."

Then there's retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, whom Trump has tapped to lead the Defense Department.

In a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in May 2015, Mattis said Russia's aggression in eastern Ukraine and Crimea was "much more severe" and "more serious" than how it was being treated by either Washington or Europe, adding that the most dangerous near-term security threat facing the US "might be Russia."

Related: Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis

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Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis
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Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis walks out after a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, N.J. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence greet retired Marine General James Mattis for a meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine General James Mattis departs as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump walks back into the main clubhouse following their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with retired Marine Gen. James Mattis following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis and Operation Gratitude Founder Carolyn Blashek speak during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Egyptian Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Anan shakes hands with US Commander of the Central Command James Mattis during a meeting in Cairo on March 29, 2011.

(KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis speaks during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis, former commander of the U.S. Central Command testifies before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee on 'Threats Posed by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), AQ (al Qaeda), and Other Islamic Extremists' on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., September 18, 2014. Yesterday the House approved President Obama's plan to train Syrian rebels to counter ISIL.

(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Marine Corps General James Mattis, commander of the US Central Command, appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, March 1, 2011. Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would first require a military operation to destroy the north African nation's air defense systems, top US commander General James Mattis warned Tuesday. A no-fly zone would require removing 'the air defense capability first,' Mattis told a Senate hearing. 'It would be a military operation,' he added.

(CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Joint Forces Command Commander James Mattis speaks during the 2010 Atlantic Council awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on April 28, 2010 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)

Kuwait Major General James Mattis, a high ranking Marine commander who also led troops into Afghanistan, visits Living Support Area one in Kuwait near the Iraqi border where troops are poised to begin a war against Iraq if called to do so by the President of the United States.

(Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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'We are already at war with Russia'

Trump's pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, told Congress in 2015 that "we have seen a clear return to Cold War tactics" under Putin, and that Russia " is using power projection in an attempt to erode US leadership and challenge US influence in the Western Hemisphere."

Half a year later, Trump's new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, dined with Putin in Moscow to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the state-sponsored news agency Russia Today.

Flynn, who led the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, has appeared on and been interviewed by Russia Today network more than once. He has said he absolutely agrees that the US and Russia need to work together to defeat ISIS.

Pompeo has said Russia's claim that it intervened in Syria to fight ISIS was "a false narrative."

Trump's pick for deputy national security adviser, former Reagan administration official and Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland, said in late October, "We are already at war with Russia. We're at cyberwar with Russia." She suggested Washington could retaliate via new sanctions against the Kremlin, which President Barack Obama imposed in late December.

Trump's incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, said on Sunday that the White House may have disproportionately punished Russia with the sanctions and expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and that "there is zero evidence" the hacking changed the outcome of the election.

Related: Vladimir Putin through the years

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Vladimir Putin
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Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a glass of champagne after a state awards ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, on March 10, 2016. AFP PHOTO / POOL / PAVEL GOLOVKIN / AFP / POOL / PAVEL GOLOVKIN (Photo credit should read PAVEL GOLOVKIN/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA. MARCH 1, 2016. Russia's president Vladimir Putin at the 7th congress of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation (CCI). Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu leave Moscow's Red Square on May 9, 2015 after the Victory Day military parade. Russian President Vladimir Putin presides over a huge Victory Day parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Soviet win over Nazi Germany, amid a Western boycott of the festivities over the Ukraine crisis. AFP PHOTO / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with the leader of Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia Leonid Tibilov during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / IVAN SEKRETAREV (Photo credit should read IVAN SEKRETAREV/AFP/Getty Images)
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - FEBRUARY 17: Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) looks on as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban kisses the hand of a member of the Russian delegation during a signing ceremony of several agreements between the two countries on February 17, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Putin is in Budapest on a one-day visit, his first visit to an EU-member country since he attended ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasions in France in June, 2014. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 21, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - MARCH 16: Russia President Vladimir Putin waves during the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on March 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Japan, December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool
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In August, meanwhile, Pompeo said that Russia was among the "bad actors" using its "active cyber programs to steal emails" from the Democratic National Committee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email server.

But Pompeo and Flynn apparently "share Trump's view that the intelligence community's position — that Russia tried to help his campaign — is an attempt to undermine his victory or say he didn't win," The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a transition official.

One of Trump's senior advisers, former CIA director James Woolsey, told CNN this week that "it is probably not always a good idea to say in these days and times that we know it was Russia, it was only Russia," that engaged in election-related hacking.

"I think the Russians were in there," Woolsey said, "but it doesn't mean other people weren't."

US intelligence agencies have concluded that senior Russian officials were involved in election-related hacking. The agencies provided no evidence that any other nation-states had hacked the emails along with the Russians.

Three intelligence officials told Reuters on Thursday that they have conclusive evidence that Russia not only orchestrated the DNC hacks, but also gave the stolen documents to the self-described transparency organization WikiLeaks.

"We assess that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized the recent election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets," the nation's top intelligence officials said in a statement to Congress on Thursday.

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, told Fox earlier this week that "our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party" — a claim Trump echoed on Twitter.

"Julian Assange said 'a 14-year-old could have hacked Podesta' – why was DNC so careless?" Trump tweeted. "Also said Russians did not give him the info!"

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday called Assange "a sycophant for Russia."

From the top down, it remains to be seen how the tensions both between members of Trump's team and between his administration and the intelligence community will play out once he takes office.

"I don't think they will need to or be able to reconcile all of their differences in the confirmation hearings," said Boris Zilberman, a Russia expert at the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "As with other administrations, you will have a number of natural tensions when it comes to world views and the tactics that should be undertaken to carry those views out."

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