The Trump Transition: Hacking, intel and a Toyota tweet

The disagreement between President-elect Donald Trump and the U.S. intelligence community over Russia’s interference in 2016 election continues to deepen amid news that senior Russian officials celebrated Trump’s victory as a geopolitical win for Moscow.

The news of Russian celebrations, reported by The Washington Post, is expected to keep Russia at the center of Trump’s transition narrative in spite of his team’s attempts to dismiss the issue. A declassified intelligence report on Russian influence operations is also set to come out next week, which will further the story.

Trump denies intelligence assessments that Russia engaged in hacking and propaganda to advance his campaign. He repeated this view in a pair of tweets Thursday night:

TRUMP VS. U.S. INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES

The president-elect is not finding much support for his view in the Senate. At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and ranking Democrat Jack Reed (R.I.) expressed alarm at Russia’s interference.

Lawmakers in both parties also challenged Trump’s recent criticism of the intelligence community.

“Mr. President-elect, when you listen to these people, you can be skeptical, but understand they’re the best among us and they’re trying to protect us,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who provided testimony, said that healthy skepticism is one thing but that “there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement.’’

TRUMP EXPECTED TO NAME COATS AS DNI

Not everyone in Trump’s inner circle might agree with him on Russia. The president-elect is expected to name former senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) as his director of national intelligence, the position currently held by Clapper.

Coats, a 16-year veteran of the Senate and a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, has a hawkish record on Russia. After he was banned from the country as part of the Kremlin’s response to U.S. and European sanctions in 2014, Coats said he was “honored to be on this list” and pushed for even heavier measures to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea.

Trump’s pick is already receiving praise for this reason, including from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), an outspoken critic of Trump during the election:

TOYOTA DISPUTES A TWEET

Trump, in his fourth tweet this week about an automaker, made a few mistakes Thursday afternoon. He said Toyota would pay a “big border tax” unless it built a new manufacturing plant for Corolla sedans in the United States:

In fact, the plant Trump referred to in Baja, Mexico, will manufacture Tacoma trucks previously built at a facility in Canada. The company said its employment and production in the United States will not change as a result of the new plant.

NEW WHITE HOUSE POLICY STAFFERS NAMED

Trump also made additions to his White House policy staff, including naming members of the Domestic Policy Council and the National Trade Council.

Andrew Bremberg, who was policy director for the 2016 Republican Party Platform, will serve as director of the Domestic Policy Council. He and seven deputies will report to Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser. Bremberg formerly worked as an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and was at the Department of Health and Human Services from 2001 to 2009.

Trump also announced that Harvard University lecturer Carlos Diaz-Rosillo will serve as director of policy and interagency coordination under Miller, while Vince Haley and Ross Worthington, both longtime aides to former House speaker Newt Gingrich, will serve as advisers for policy, strategy and speechwriting.

ALL U.S. AMBASSADORS DIRECTED TO QUIT

Ambassadors in some of the most desirable foreign capitals have been told they must end their service immediately on Jan. 20, with “no exceptions,” State Department officials confirmed Thursday.

The unusually stern and specific directive to “political” ambassadors — often presidential donors and friends — came at the behest of the incoming Trump administration, two officials said. It appears to forbid any extensions for family circumstances such as allowing children to finish the school year, a customary allowance in past administrations.

KEY DATES

The current schedule of confirmation hearings promises a busy next week.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold two days of hearings for Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, on Tuesday, Jan. 10, and Wednesday, Jan. 11.

At least three other nominees are scheduled to undergo confirmation hearings on Jan. 11: education secretary designee Betsy DeVos, before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; transportation secretary designee Elaine Chao, before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; homeland security secretary designee John Kelly, before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Secretary of state designee Rex Tillerson is also tentatively scheduled to go before the Foreign Relations Committee that day.

The next day, Jan. 12, commerce secretary designee Wilbur Ross is scheduled to go before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Finally, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs will hold a hearing for Ben Carson, the nominee to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, on a yet-to-be announced date next week.

Inauguration is Friday, Jan. 20. Tickets will become available to the public on Monday.

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