Donald Trump called Josh Earnest “a foolish guy” Thursday after the White House press secretary said the president-elect should stop attacking U.S. intelligence agencies for their conclusion that Russia tried to help Trump win the election.
The back-and-forth reflected rising tension between the incoming and outgoing presidents over Trump’s friendly posture toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This foolish guy, Josh Earnest, I don’t know if he’s talking to President Obama,” Trump told thousands of supporters at his latest postelection campaign rally, in Hershey, Pa.
“You know, having the right press secretary is so important because he is so bad the way he delivers a message. He can deliver a positive message and it sounds bad.”
Trump called Obama “very positive” and wondered why Earnest was not. “Maybe he’s getting his orders from somebody else – does that make sense? Could that be possible?”
At a White House press briefing Thursday morning, Earnest fielded questions on Trump’s rejection of U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia tapped emails from Hillary Clinton’s allies and released them to help swing the election to Trump.
Earnest reminded reporters that Trump openly called on Russia in July to hack Clinton’s email, a statement that advisors later suggested was a joke.
“An adversary of the United States engaged in malicious cyber-activity to destabilize our democracy,” Earnest said. “That’s not a joke. Nobody at the White House thought it was a joke. Nobody in the intelligence community thought it was a joke. I’m not aware of any members of Congress in either party that was briefed on this matter multiple times dating back to the summer thought it was a joke.”
Obama has ordered a review of hacking aimed at influencing U.S. elections since 2008 and expects to get a report on it before Trump takes office on Jan. 20.
“It might be time to not attack the intelligence community,” Earnest said, “but actually be supportive of a thorough, transparent, rigorous, nonpolitical investigation into what exactly happened, and to cooperate with it, and to support it.