U.S. Intelligence officials warn lawmakers Russia is aiding Trump campaign
(CN) – Intelligence officials warned lawmakers in the House last week that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election in order to help re-elect President Donald Trump, a briefing that angered the president, believing that it would be used against him by Democrats.
The House Intelligence Committee was briefed on the interference on Feb. 13, according to anonymous officials who spoke Thursday to the New York Times and The Washington Post. The day after the briefing, President Trump chided then-director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire, believing him to be disloyal for speaking to Congress.
The president replaced Maguire with Richard Grenell on Thursday, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany and fierce Trump loyalist. Grenell may hold the post only for a few weeks under a federal law that limits Grenell to serving in the post until March 11 unless President Trump formally nominates someone else.
Trump in particular was irritated by the presence of Representative Adam Schiff, D-Calif., lead impeachment manager during the Senate trial, according to media reports. The president has long denied the intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, viewing it as undermining his victory.
Last week’s briefing, given by intelligence official Shelby Pierson, contained new information on Russian activities to disrupt the 2020 election, including actions meant to disrupt the 2020 Democratic primaries as well. Pierson told the lawmakers several times that the Russians had “developed a preference” for President Trump, according to the Post.
Trump heard of Pierson’s remarks by Representative Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a Trump supporter and ranking Republican on the committee.
“Members on both sides participated, including ranking member Nunes, and heard the exact same briefing from experts across the intelligence community,” a committee official told the Post. “No special or separate briefing was provided to one side or to any single member, including the chairman.”
In an NPR interview last month, Pierson said Russians “are already engaging in influence operations relative to candidates going into 2020. But we do not have evidence at this time that our adversaries are directly looking at interfering with vote counts or the vote tallies.”
“We’re still also concerned about China, Iran, non-state actors, hacktivists and frankly — certainly for DHS and FBI – even Americans that might be looking to undermine confidence in the elections,” she said.
Republicans in the briefing challenged the findings, pointing to Trump’s economic sanctions on Russia. The president has also spoken well of Russian President Vladimir Putin, delayed military aid to Russian adversary Ukraine and withdrew troops from Syria, allowing Russian forces to take over.
Trump’s appointment of Grenell has been questioned by some due to his lack of experience in national security and intelligence. The president already has poor relations with the intelligence community, some of whose members he has accused of being a part of a “deep state” conspiracy to oust him.
Schiff tweeted Thursday evening that the president should not try to interfere with the intelligence community’s findings.
“We count on the intelligence community to inform Congress of any threat of foreign interference in our elections. If reports are true, and the president is interfering with that, he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling,” he said.