House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday called WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a "sycophant for Russia," just as President-elect Donald Trump was on Twitter promoting Assange's interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
During an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Ryan said he would not "comment on every little tweet or Facebook post" from Trump. But he said he was hopeful the president-elect would "get up to speed on what's been happening" regarding Russian hacking of political operatives and organizations when he receives an intelligence briefing on the subject later this week.
Asked by Hewitt whether he had any thoughts on Assange, Ryan said he had "none, other than I think the guy is a sycophant for Russia."
"He leaks, he steals data and compromises national security," Ryan said, later adding, after Hewitt pointed out that Assange was facing accusations of rape in Sweden, that he thought the WikiLeaks founder was "under house arrest."
Assange has been at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than four years after being granted asylum.
Recent public revelations showed that US intelligence tied the election-related hacking of Democratic political organizations and operatives, such as Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, to senior Russian officials. The CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in the US election to try to tip the scales toward Trump, though other agencies haven't gone as far in their assessments.
Both Republicans and Democrats have called for action against Russia after the hacking. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona have been two of the loudest voices on that front. After the Obama administration announced new sanctions on Russia last week, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released statements that both criticized Russia and said President Barack Obama had not been hard enough on the Russian government in previous years.
Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the election-related hacks, and Trump has refused to acknowledge that Russia had involvement in them.
Last week, he said it was time for the US to move on to "bigger and better" things but he would "nevertheless" meet with intelligence officials to discuss the hacking. This past weekend he said he knew things about the hacking that no one else did and would reveal it Tuesday or Wednesday. He has yet to provide any further information.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted: "The 'Intelligence' briefing on so-called 'Russian hacking' was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!"
Intelligence officials pushed back on his tweet, saying the briefing was always supposed to be held Friday.
Then, in a Wednesday tweet, Trump repeated Assange's claim from his Hannity interview that Russians did not provide WikiLeaks with the hacked information.
"Julian Assange said 'a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta' — why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!" he posted, followed by a quoted tweet in which Assange had called the media's election coverage "very dishonest."
"More dishonest than anyone knows," Trump added.
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