The White House dismissed Thursday a call by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for the government to give “fake” intelligence briefings to Donald Trump, in the wake of the Republican presidential nominee urging Russia to reveal whatever documents Moscow may have hacked from rival Hillary Clinton’s email server.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration is confident that U.S. intelligence officials can give “relevant and sufficient” briefings to both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton “while also protecting sensitive national security information.”
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper has indicated he will “provide the same information to both nominees,” the White House spokesman said.
“That certainly seems appropriate,” Mr. Earnest said.
Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Thursday that U.S. intelligence officials should withhold important information from the Republican nominee, given his comments about Russia.
“I would suggest to the intelligence agencies, if you’re forced to brief this guy, don’t tell him anything, just fake it, because this man is dangerous,” Mr. Reid told the Huffington Post. “Fake it, pretend you’re doing a briefing, but you can’t give the guy any information.”
Mr. Trump said Wednesday that the Russians should disclose any of Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails they may have hacked from her private server, following the scandal the Democratic National Committee’s stolen emails published last weekend. Those emails showed that DNC officials tried to undermine the campaign of Mrs. Clinton’s rival, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
Democrats and many in the media accused Mr. Trump of encouraging espionage by a foreign government against the U.S.
But on Thursday, Mr. Trump said he was joking when he made the comment.
“Of course I’m being sarcastic,” Mr. Trump said in a Fox News interview. “You have 33,000 emails deleted, and the real problem is what was said on the emails from the Democratic National Convention.”
The major party presidential nominees receive regular intelligence briefings soon after their nominations to help prepare them for a variety of national security challenges upon taking office. Those briefings should begin within a week or so.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, tried to block Mrs. Clinton from receiving intelligence briefings upon her formal nomination by Democrats due to her exclusive use of a private email server as secretary of state, saying she can’t be trusted with classified information.
But Mr. Clapper told Mr. Ryan in a letter earlier this month that he “does not intend to withhold briefings from any officially nominated, eligible candidate.”
FBI Director James B. Comey said after an investigation that Mrs. Clinton was “extremely careless” with sensitive government documents but broke no laws. He recommended no criminal charges, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch quickly endorsed the decision, raising Republicans’ accusations that the Democratic nominee was benefiting from political interference by top administration officials.
President Obama has emphasized that Mr. Comey was first appointed as a deputy attorney general by Republican President George W. Bush. Mr. Obama tapped him for the FBI post in 2013.
Mr. Earnest said the long-running tradition of providing the intelligence briefings to the nominees is important for the continuity of government.
“The president’s made clear that ensuring the smooth transition to the next president is a top priority,” he said. “That requires a lot of advance preparation. For more than 60 years now, the intelligence community has offered briefings … in an effort to facilitate a smooth transition. [Mr. Clapper] has indicated that he intends to conduct those briefings. He certainly is supported by this administration and this White House in doing so.”
On Wednesday, two of the intelligence community’s top-ranking Democrats urged Mr. Obama to release to the public any evidence linking the Russian government to the DNC hack.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrats, laid out the request in an open letter to Mr. Obama prompted by recent allegations concerning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged involvement in the DNC hack and WikiLeaks’ subsequent publication last week of 20,000 internal party emails.
“Earlier this week, the FBI announced that it had launched an investigation into the DNC hack, a step which we support. Given the grave nature of this breach and the fact that it may ultimately be found to be a state-sponsored attempt to manipulate our presidential election, we believe a heightened measure of transparency is warranted,” wrote Ms. Feinstein, vice chair of the Senate intelligence committee, and Mr. Schiff, the ranking member of the House intelligence panel.
“Specifically, we ask that the Administration consider declassifying and releasing, subject to redactions to protect sources and methods, any Intelligence Community assessments regarding the incident, including any that might illuminate potential Russian motivations for what would be an unprecedented interference in a U.S. Presidential race, and why President Putin could potentially feel compelled to authorize such an operation, given the high likelihood of eventual attribution,” they added.
As acknowledged in their letter to the president, cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike said last month that it had determined hackers acting on behalf of the Russian government had infiltrated DNC’s servers and exfiltrated sensitive emails. Several U.S. officials have since stated similarly, and an article published in The New York Times this week attributes the intelligence community as believing with “high confidence” the hack was perpetrated by Russia.
According to Mr. Putin’s spokesman, “absurd claims” suggesting Russia colluded with Mr. Trump to carry out the hacked have been refuted by the White House hopeful’s own family.
⦁ Andrew Blake contributed to this report.