Trump tries to take control of the Intelligence Community over Russian election interference (Updated)

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In breaking news, Intelligence Community officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to get President Trump re-elected.

The New York Times reports, Russia Backs Trump’s Re-election, and He Fears Democrats Will Exploit Its Support:

The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, Mr. Trump berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump cited the presence in the briefing of Representative Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who led the impeachment proceedings against him, as a particular irritant.

Schiff is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the “gang of eight” entitled to receive classified intelligence briefings. It is his job.

During the briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Trump’s allies challenged the conclusions, arguing that Mr. Trump has been tough on Russia and strengthened European security. Some intelligence officials viewed the briefing as a tactical error, saying that had the official who delivered the conclusion spoken less pointedly or left it out, they would have avoided angering the Republicans.

That intelligence official, Shelby Pierson, is an aide to Mr. Maguire who has a reputation of delivering intelligence in somewhat blunt terms.

Update: Though intelligence officials have previously told lawmakers that Russia’s interference campaign was continuing, last week’s briefing included what appeared to be new information: that Russia intended to interfere with the 2020 Democratic primaries as well as the general election.

The president announced on Wednesday that he was replacing Mr. Maguire with Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and long an aggressively vocal Trump supporter.

Though some current and former officials speculated that the briefing may have played a role in the removal of Mr. Maguire, who had told people in recent days that he believed he would remain in the job, two administration officials said the timing was coincidental. Mr. Grenell had been in discussions with the administration about taking on new roles, they said, and Mr. Trump had never felt a personal kinship with Mr. Maguire.

The Washington Post adds, After a congressional briefing on election threats, Trump soured on acting spy chief:

President Trump erupted at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office last week over what he perceived as disloyalty by Maguire’s staff, which ruined Maguire’s chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump announced on Wednesday that he was replacing Maguire with a vocal loyalist, Richard Grenell, who is the U.S. ambassador to Germany.

Maguire had been considered a leading candidate to be nominated for the post of DNI, White House aides had said. But Trump’s opinion shifted last week when he heard from a GOP ally that the intelligence official in charge of election security, who works for Maguire, gave a classified briefing last Thursday to the House Intelligence Committee on 2020 election security.

It is unclear what the official, Shelby Pierson, specifically said at the briefing that angered Trump, but the president erroneously believed that she had given information exclusively to Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, and that the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly, the people familiar with the matter said.

[T]he president was furious with Maguire and blamed him for the supposed transgression involving Pierson when the two met the next day.

“There was a dressing down” of Maguire, said one individual, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. “That was the catalyst” that led to the sidelining of Maguire in favor of Grenell, the person said.

Maguire came away “despondent,” said another individual.

Pierson, who coordinates the intelligence community’s efforts to gather information on foreign threats to U.S. elections, spoke at a briefing held for the full committee on “election security and foreign interference in the run-up to the 2020 election,” said a committee official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail closed-door proceedings.

“Members on both sides participated, including ranking member [Devin] Nunes, and heard the exact same briefing from experts across the intelligence community,” the committee official said. “No special or separate briefing was provided to one side or to any single member, including the chairman.”

White House officials said that Trump’s decision to make Grenell the acting director, rather than nominate him for the permanent position, reflected concerns that he might not win confirmation in the Senate.

“The president likes acting [officials] better,” one White House official said.

As acting DNI, Grenell would oversee the intelligence community’s efforts to combat election interference and disinformation, but he has been skeptical of Russia’s role in 2016.

“Russian or Russian-approved tactics like cyber warfare and campaigns of misinformation have been happening for decades,” he wrote in a 2016 opinion article for Fox News, playing down the severity of the threat. That view is at odds with the conclusions of senior U.S. intelligence officials, who have said Russia’s operation in 2016 was sweeping and systematic, and unlike previous Russian or Soviet efforts.

But Grenell’s view is in line with Trump’s assessment. The president has portrayed disinformation campaigns as commonplace and has compared Russia’s interventions to U.S. efforts to support democracy overseas.

Some lawmakers said that Grenell lacks the experience necessary for the job and have said his avid support for the president could impair his duty to speak candidly to Trump and represent the intelligence community as a nonpolitical body.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that Trump had selected someone “without any intelligence experience” and faulted the president for not nominating a permanent successor, “apparently in an effort to sidestep the Senate’s constitutional authority to advise and consent on such critical national security positions.”

Grenell is completely unqualified for the position of DNI. His only qualification is being a Trump sycophant. Steve Benen explains, As of today, how many jobs does Richard Grenell have?

After Donald Trump announced late yesterday that Ambassador Richard Grenell would take over as the acting director of National Intelligence, the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler joked, “Well, they must be doing cartwheels in Berlin.”

He had a point. After the president named Grenell to serve as U.S. ambassador to Germany, the first-time diplomat, perhaps best known as an internet troll, quickly irritated our allies in Berlin. Some German officials spoke publicly about the possibility of asking him to leave the country.

But before anyone in Berlin celebrates Grenell’s departure, this tidbit from a New York Times report stood out for me.

Mr. Grenell is expected to keep his current ambassadorship as long as he is acting intelligence director, one administration official said.

Really? One unqualified person will oversee the U.S. intelligence community and remain the ambassador to Europe’s largest country at the same time?

What’s more, let’s also not forget that the White House tapped Grenell five months ago to serve as the U.S. envoy for Kosovo-Serbia diplomacy.

I guess my question is, as of right now, exactly how many jobs does Ric Grenell have?

Tufts University Professor of International Politics Dan Drezner explains what he is calling a “ridiculously insane” choice on Morning Joe.

Drezner: “This guy has two qualifications. One he’s good on getting on Fox News and on Twitter. And second, he’s apparently a gold member in the Trump Hotel Club. Beyond that, theres no qualifications we can talk about.” “This guy is a complete hack with no qualifications whatsoever.”

UPDATE: Dan Drezner follows up with n op-ed in The Post. The Trump administration’s beclowning of the executive branch continues apace: Sure, appoint a radically unqualified person to run the entire intelligence community.

The Post editors agree, Trump puts an unqualified loyalist in charge of national intelligence.

Donald Trump is the greatest threat to our U.S. national security. Putin’s puppet is leaving our elections vulnerable to Russian cyber attacks to aid his election. Some dare call that treason.

UPDATE: The Times has expanded on its earlier breaking news report:

The Russians have been preparing — and experimenting — for the 2020 election, undeterred by American efforts to thwart them but aware that they needed a new playbook of as-yet-undetectable methods, United States officials said.

They have made more creative use of Facebook and other social media. Rather than impersonating Americans as they did in 2016, Russian operatives are working to get Americans to repeat disinformation, the officials said. That strategy gets around social media companies’ rules that prohibit “inauthentic speech.”

And the Russians are working from servers in the United States, rather than abroad, knowing that American intelligence agencies are prohibited from operating inside the country. (The F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security are allowed to do so with aid from the intelligence agencies.)

Russian hackers have also infiltrated Iran’s cyberwarfare unit, perhaps with the intent of launching attacks that would look like they were coming from Tehran, the National Security Agency has warned.

Some officials believe that foreign powers, possibly including Russia, could use ransomware attacks, like those that have debilitated some local governments, to damage or interfere with voting systems or registration databases.

Still, much of the Russian aim is similar to its 2016 interference, officials said: search for issues that stir controversy in the United States and use various methods to stoke division.

One of Moscow’s main goals is to undermine confidence in American election systems, intelligence officials have told lawmakers, seeking to sow doubts over close elections and recounts. American officials have said they want to maintain confidence in the country’s voting systems, so confronting those Russian efforts is difficult.

Both Republicans and Democrats asked the intelligence agencies to hand over the underlying material that prompted their conclusion that Russia again is favoring Mr. Trump’s election.

* * *

How soon the House committee might get that information is not clear. Since the impeachment inquiry, tensions have risen between the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the committee. As officials navigate the disputes, the intelligence agencies have slowed the amount of material they provide to the House, officials said. The agencies are required by law to regularly brief Congress on threats.

While Republicans have long been critical of the Obama administration for not doing enough to track and deter Russian interference in 2016, current and former intelligence officials said the party is at risk of making a similar mistake now. Mr. Trump has been reluctant to even hear about election interference, and Republicans dislike discussing it publicly.

The aftermath of last week’s briefing prompted some intelligence officials to voice concerns that the White House will dismantle a key election security effort by Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence: the establishment of an election interference czar. Ms. Pierson has held the post since last summer.

And some current and former intelligence officials expressed fears that Mr. Grenell may have been put in place explicitly to slow the pace of information on election interference to Congress.

* * *

Mr. Trump, former officials have said, is typically uninterested in election interference briefings, and Mr. Grenell might see it as unwise to emphasize such intelligence with the president.

“The biggest concern I would have is if the intelligence community was not forthcoming and not providing the analysis in the run-up to the next election,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former intelligence official now with the Center for a New American Security. “It is really concerning that this is happening in the run-up to an election.”

“Trump is trying to whitewash or rewrite the narrative about Russia’s involvement in the election,” Ms. Kendall-Taylor said. “Grenell’s appointment suggests he is really serious about that.”

The acting deputy to Mr. Maguire, Andrew P. Hallman, will step down on Friday, officials said, paving the way for Mr. Grenell to put in place his own management team. Mr. Hallman was the intelligence office’s principal executive, but since the resignation in August of the previous deputy, Sue Gordon, he has been performing the duties of that post.

Hallman’s replacement is Kash Patel, a former acolyte of Rep. Devin Nunes. NSC aide who worked to discredit Russia probe moves to senior ODNI post:

Kash Patel, a former top National Security Council official who also played a key role as a Hill staffer in helping Republicans discredit the Russia probe, is now a senior adviser for new acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, according to four people familiar with the matter. He started at ODNI on Thursday, according to an administration official.

He had previously worked as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)’s top staffer on the House Intelligence Committee and was the lead author of a report questioning the conduct of FBI and DOJ officials investigating Russia’s election interference. Republicans later used the report to bolster arguments that the probe was a plot to take down President Donald Trump.

Just as disturbing, President Trump says he’s considering Trump loyalist Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-GA) for permanent DNI post. Collins has been a vocal and loyal defender of the president, including through impeachment. A Collins nomination is also certain to infuriate critics of the president, who believe the agency should not be run by a clear partisan.

Former CIA Director John Brennan posted on Twitter:

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On Thursday evening, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff posted on Twitter:

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2 COMMENTS

  1. One can only hope that the career professionals at our intelligence agencies make copies of all the evidence that Russia has/will interfere in our elections. The way career scientists made copies of the climate data before Trump was inaugurated. Guarantee Ruck Grenell, being the good Trump lickspittle he is, will do everything he can to destroy it.

    If making such copies is illegal then a presidential pardon would be in order. Better to pardon patriots than a pack of swindlers.

    • The Trump/Kushner crime family takeover of the DoJ, the intelligence agencies, and our foreign policy is the most important story since Bush/Cheney’s WMD scam.

      The media will cover this for five minutes, then return to who got in the best zinger in the Dem debates.

      The scientists who downloaded and saved all the data on climate before Trump ordered it all deleted should have monuments built in their honor.

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