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Sec. John Kerry To Andrea Mitchell: Trashing U.S. Intel 'Damaging'

Secretary of State John Kerry says it's vital for President-elect Donald Trump to “repair" the relationship with U.S. intelligence services.
Image: John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington on Jan. 5.Cliff Owen / AP

Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry warned Friday that Donald Trump’s continued swipes and criticism of the U.S. intelligence community “is damaging.”

In one of his final interviews before leaving his post, Kerry told NBCNews' Andrea Mitchell: "It’s going to be really important for the incoming president to repair this relationship, to create a relationship. It is vital for the president to be able to work effectively with the intel community.”

“I mean these are men and women who dedicate their lives and work unbelievably hard, many of them under very difficult circumstances to try to keep America safe and to provide information to decision-makers so that we can make the right decisions and make them on the basis of as much input as possible,” he said.

Asked why he didn’t follow famously outspoken Vice-President Biden’s example and simply tell Trump to “grow up,” Kerry said “I’m not going to get into the back and forth on the President-elect right now.”

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington on Jan. 5.Cliff Owen / AP

“I’m still representing the country and I intend to do that with the same discipline that I’ve tried to exercise throughout my term,” he replied.

Urged by Mitchell to let his “inner John Biden come out,” Kerry demurred.

“My inner Joe Biden and my inner John Kerry, more importantly, will come out after the 20th of January,” he said.

Trump has been at odds with intelligence officials over their assertions that the Russians hacked the presidential election and has openly mocked them in a series of Tweets. He has suggested WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange has a better handle on intel than U.S. intelligence experts both in and outside of the government who say there is evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to influence the election — and that Moscow was in the tank for Trump.

Asked by Mitchell if he has a message for Putin, Kerry said President Obama has already “made it very, very clear how totally unacceptable and dangerous this kind of behavior is.”

Russian hackers have targeted — and continue to target — other countries as well, Kerry said.

“Now, how we go forward is going to be determined to some degree by choices that the new administration makes,” Kerry said. “And obviously, it is going to be important that the president of the United States, going forward, has a clear understanding of the degree to which Russia is engaged in this activity and the threat it poses.”

Kerry said that if the Trump administration were to reverse the sanctions they have imposed on Moscow for hacking — and for their “illegal annexation” of the Ukrainian region of Crimea — “it would be a huge mistake.”

Kerry also fended off a question about whether British Prime Minister Theresa May was “clearly playing up to Donald Trump” when she openly took issue with his strident defense of the U.S. decision to abstain from a United Nations Security Council vote to condemn Israel for continuing to build Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory.

“My hope is that they will have had the time now to digest the full text of my speech and to understand that I was defending the British position, which is support for a two-state solution and that I was defending a long held belief by Britain, by Europe, by all our allies and friends, and particularly by Republican and Democrat administrations alike, that settlements are an obstacle to peace,” he said.

Kerry also declined to revisit whether the Obama Administration should have reacted differently to the ongoing Syrian crisis. But when asked whether there is “more public service in your future,” Kerry had a ready answer.

“It’s in my blood,” he said. “I don’t intend to pull back.”