In an echo of 2016, the intelligence community reportedly has warned lawmakers that Russia is trying to influence the 2020 election in a briefing that drew the ire of President Trump and may have prompted the ouster of acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire.
Trump, still peeved by IC reports that Russia hacked the DNC and launched a well-coordinated disinformation campaign to aid in his election, berated Maguire after discovering Intelligence Community (IC) Election Threats Executive (ETE) Shelby Pierson briefed members of Congress, including Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the recent effort to impeach the president, on the Russia’s latest attempts to interfere, the New York Times reported Thursday.
Pierson, the agency’s election security crisis manager during the 2018 midterms, was named to the newly created Intelligence Community (IC) Election Threats Executive (ETE) last July, tasked with serving as the IC’s principal adviser on threats to elections and security as well as coordinating election security initiatives across the IC. She leads the Election Executive and Leadership Board created in 2019.
The president was afraid, the report said, that Schiff and other Democrats would “weaponize” the information against him. He reportedly learned about the briefing, the Washington Post said, from Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who has sparked controversy for the way he handled the Russian probe when he led the House Intelligence Committee and his support of Trump’s claims of interference were little more than a hoax meant to delegitimize his presidency.
Maguire was replaced Wednesday by Trump loyalist Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany. Grennell’s appointment to acting DNI drew immediate criticism because he, by and large, has no real experience in the intelligence community, a mandate of the 9/11-inspired 2004 law that created the DNI position.
“By firing Acting DNI Maguire because his staff provided the candid conclusions of the Intelligence Community to Congress regarding Russian meddling in the 2020 Presidential election, the President is not only refusing to defend against foreign interference, he’s inviting it,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.
“Trump is trying to whitewash or rewrite the narrative about Russia’s involvement in the election,” the Times cited Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former intelligence leader, as saying. “Grenell’s appointment suggests he is really serious about that.”
Contending that Trump “has been in denial about foreign election interference for three years because his ego cannot accept that Russia interfered on his behalf,” Thompson said, ”From joking about foreign interference with Putin to today installing an unqualified crony who belittles the threat of election interference as Acting DNI, the President puts ego above country.”
Kash Patel, a former aide to Nunes and former aide at the National Security Council (NSC) who tried to sow doubts about the Russian investigation, will join Grenell at the DNI as an aide, according to a Politico report.