Questions about hacking swirl as Trump enters critical week

Donald Trump

NEW YORK -- President-elect Donald Trump and his aides are entering a crucial week in his presidential transition as he and his Cabinet nominees undergo public questioning about their approach to Russia and potential conflicts of interests.

Most pressing during the upcoming days of confirmation hearings and Trump's first news conference in six months likely will be whether he accepts U.S. intelligence officials' conclusion Russia meddled in the U.S. election to help him win the White House.

Trump's incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said Sunday that Trump indeed has accepted Russia was responsible for the hacking, which targeted the Democratic National Committee and a top aide to former rival Hillary Clinton.

"He's not denying that entities in Russia were behind this particular campaign," Priebus said in a Sunday television interview.

That's more than Trump has said.

As for potential retaliation, aides said those are decisions Trump will make after he becomes president Jan. 20.

Intelligence officials allege Moscow directed a series of hacks to help Trump win the White House in the race against Clinton.

Trump has expressed skepticism about Russia's role and declined to say whether he agrees the meddling was done on his behalf.

In an interview after a briefing on the findings, Trump said he "learned a lot" from his discussions with intelligence officials, but he declined to say whether he accepted their assertion about Russia's motives.

Trump has said improving relations with Russia would be a good thing, and only "stupid" people would disagree.

"My suspicion is these hopes will be dashed pretty quickly," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "The Russians are clearly a big adversary. And they demonstrated it by trying to mess around in our election."

An unclassified version of the report directly tied Russian President Vladimir Putin to election meddling and said Moscow had a "clear preference" for Trump over Clinton. Trump and his allies have bristled at any implication the meddling helped him win the election.

He won the Electoral College vote with 306 votes, well over the 270 votes required to become president.

Accepting those findings would be a positive step but not enough, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is calling for more penalties against Russia.

"He's going to be the defender of the free world here pretty soon," said Graham, a Trump critic. "All I'm asking him is to acknowledge that Russia interfered and push back. It could be Iran next time. It could be China."

The developments come during a consequential week for Trump, who will take office Jan. 20.

Beginning Tuesday, the Senate will hold the first of at least nine hearings this week on Trump's Cabinet picks. But Democrats have voiced objections to the pace set by the Republican majority.

The government ethics office said it hasn't received draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees set to appear before Congress this week.

And Wednesday, Trump is scheduled to hold a long-delayed news conference -- his first since July 27 -- to describe his plans for his global business empire to avoid conflicts of interest while he's president.