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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the First Ministers’ meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/Files(reuters_tickers)
By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday criticized President-elect Donald Trump for comparing the U.S. intelligence establishment to Nazi Germany and said it was damaging to the United States' standing in the world to denigrate agencies that protect the nation.
Trump, a Republican who takes office on Jan. 20, on Wednesday said leaks from intelligence agencies led some U.S. media outlets to report unsubstantiated claims that he was caught in a compromising position in Russia, and said such leaks were reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
"It is really very damaging, in my view, to our standing in the world for a president to take one of the crown jewels of our national defence and denigrate it," Biden, a Democrat, told reporters at the White House, referring to intelligence agencies.
"It plays into, particularly now, the Russian narrative that America doesn't know what it's doing."
Trump tweeted on Thursday that U.S. spy chief James Clapper had called him to "denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated."
Clapper, however, said in a statement on Wednesday night that in the call with Trump he emphasized 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.
Capper said he expressed his dismay over media leaks. The director of national intelligence added that he did not believe the leaks came from U.S. intelligence agencies.
At the White House, Biden praised the quality of U.S. intelligence and said it was not surprising that someone who had never worked in government would not understand how consequential intelligence reports are. Trump has never held elected office.
"The one thing you never want to invoke is Nazi Germany, no matter what the circumstances," Biden said. "Even if you're trying to make a point that may, and I'm not suggesting it did, may be relevant, it just, it is an overwhelming diversion."
Groups fighting anti-Semitism have also objected to Trump's reference to Nazi Germany.
"The president-elect’s use of Nazi Germany to make a political analogy is not only an inappropriate comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse and diminishes the horror of the Holocaust," Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Biden said he hoped Trump would realise the importance of intelligence briefings at the White House.
"It's an extremely valuable tool ... I think he'll come to understand that. And if he doesn't, it would be a tragedy for the interests of the country," Biden said.
Biden said he liked his successor, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and had briefed him on the job. He said he thought Pence's views of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, were more informed than Trump's.
"I never know what he means," Biden said of Trump. "But I do think that Mike is significantly more informed about Russian conduct, potential intentions and Putin's behaviour than ... the president-elect is, based on what the president-elect says."
The vice president, who considered running for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said he did not think his party was experiencing a crisis after its losses in the U.S. elections. Trump defeated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, and Democrats did not succeed in their efforts to regain control of the U.S. Senate and significantly erode Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
"I don't think they're in a crisis, I think the party has to just remember who the hell they are," said Biden.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)