Intelligence officials delivered a warning to a bipartisan group of Congress: Russia has a preference for President Donald Trump in 2020 and may try to act on that preference again.
The warning was given by Shelby Pierson, a top election-security official from the office of Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Pierson made the comments in a classified hearing delivered to the House Intelligence Committee, the details of which were leaked to The Washington Post.
Trump responded to hearing about the briefing by reportedly lashing out at Maguire, according to The Post, and on Wednesday he announced he was replacing Maguire with Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany. Grenell has little intelligence experience and the decision to name him as acting Director of National Intelligence, the top national security spot in the country, was a controversial one. Grenell said he will not be nominated to take over the post permanently, a move that would require a Senate confirmation hearing.
My god. What angered Trump about that election security briefing to HPSCI—and led him to oust Maguire—was the disclosure that Russia was again interfering to help him win.— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) February 20, 2020
Russia Backs Trump’s Re-election, and He Fears Democrats Will Exploit Its Support https://t.co/cwlhQIFee5
During the classified briefing, Pierson told lawmakers that Russia had “developed a preference” for Trump, a U.S. official told The Post. The group also discussed whether the government should warn 2020 Democratic contenders if intelligence officials see that they’re being targeted by foreign governments.
Trump is said to have learned of the briefing from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who is on the House Intelligence Committee.
NBC News confirms: Trump pushed aside his acting director of national intelligence because he was angry that lawmakers were briefed about Russia's plan to interfere in the 2020 election to help Trump, a former intel official briefed on the matter said. https://t.co/0m2SwXdiRx— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 21, 2020
“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.”
The Wall Street Journal confirmed much of The Washington Post reporting, adding that Trump “grew irate,” as the WSJ writes, after learning that the hearing occurred before he was briefed on election interference the next day.
However, the president tweeted on Friday, saying, “Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress.”
Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa. Hoax number 7!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2020
As of Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the allegation of interference in the 2020 election, “These are more paranoid announcements which, to our regret, will multiply as we get closer to the (U.S.) election. They have nothing to do with the truth.”
The White House reportedly floated Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) for the permanent Director of National Intelligence role on Thursday night, but early Friday he said he had no interest in the position during an interview on Fox Business.