WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. spy chief James Clapper and President-elect Donald Trump gave different accounts of a phone conversation they had about a dossier of unverified, salacious claims linking Russia to Trump, who is locked in a war of words with the intelligence agencies he will command in eight days.
A newcomer to politics, businessman Trump has been at odds with U.S. spy agencies for months, disputing their conclusions that Russia used hacking and other tactics to try to tilt the 2016 presidential election in his favour.
On Wednesday, he acknowledged the point but opened a new battlefront, responding to media reports of unsubstantiated claims that he was caught in a compromising position in Russia by accusing intelligence agencies of practices reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
In a Wednesday night statement Clapper, director of national intelligence, said that in a call with Trump he expressed his dismay over media leaks. Clapper added that he did not believe the leaks came from U.S. intelligence agencies.
Clapper said he emphasized to Trump that the report was not produced by U.S. intelligence agencies and that they had not judged whether the information was reliable. He did not say the document was false.
By contrast, Trump suggested in a tweet on Thursday that Clapper agreed that the report was untrue.
“James Clapper called me yesterday to denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated. Made up, phoney facts. Too bad!” Trump wrote.
Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, an opponent of the Republican Trump, was asked by CNN on Thursday morning about Trump’s characterization of Clapper’s statement that the document was false.
“Sadly, you cannot rely on the president-elect’s tweets or statements about what he’s receiving in intelligence briefings. And that’s a real problem,” said Schiff, the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
“If people really want to know what Director Clapper had to say to Donald Trump, do not rely on Donald Trump’s tweets, rely on Director Clapper’s statement.”
At a news conference before speaking to Clapper, Trump accused U.S. intelligence agencies of leaking the document to the media.
Two U.S. officials said the allegations about Trump, which one called “unsubstantiated,” were contained in a two-page memo appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election given to Trump and President Barack Obama.
CNN reported on Tuesday about the existence of the memo. BuzzFeed published a fuller 35-page document produced by a former British foreign intelligence official that outlined the allegations of compromising behaviour by Trump and his purported ties with people in Russia.
The claims were included in reports about Trump known as opposition research reports prepared for political rivals of Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
Reporting by Washington Newsroom; Editing by Grant McCool and Howard Goller