Russians Actively Working to Re-Elect Trump
Our intelligence professionals are issuing a familiar warning.
Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey and Anne Gearan reporting for WaPo (“Senior intelligence official told lawmakers that Russia wants to see Trump reelected“):
A senior U.S. intelligence official told lawmakers last week that Russia wants to see President Trump reelected, viewing his administration as more favorable to the Kremlin’s interests, according to people who were briefed on the comments.
It was not clear what specific steps, if any, U.S. intelligence officials think Russia may have taken to help Trump, according to the individuals.
The official, Shelby Pierson, said several times during the briefing that Russia had “developed a preference” for Trump, according to a U.S. official familiar with her comments. That conclusion was part of a broader discussion of election security that also touched on when the U.S. government should warn Democratic candidates if they are being targeted by foreign governments.
Adam Goldman, Julian E. Barnes, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos of the NYT have a similar report (“Lawmakers Are Warned That Russia Is Meddling to Re-elect Trump“) but add:
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.
Given that Putin and company actively interfered in not only the 2016 US elections but also several European elections, including the 2016 Brexit referendum, the 2017 French election, and the 2019 EU elections, this shouldn’t be surprising.
Naturally, the US government should be not only aggressively working to buttress our election security to ensure the outcome is viewed as legitimate but putting extreme diplomatic pressure, at the very least, on Putin. But, of course, the President is furious that the IC is being disloyal.
Back to the WaPo report:
After learning of that analysis, which was provided to House lawmakers in a classified hearing, Trump grew angry at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office, seeing Maguire and his staff as disloyal for speaking to Congress about Russia’s perceived preference. The intelligence official’s analysis and Trump’s furious response ruined Maguire’s chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief, according to people familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
Trump announced on Wednesday that he was replacing Maguire with a vocal loyalist, Richard Grenell, who is the U.S. ambassador to Germany. The shake-up at the top of the intelligence community is the latest move in a post-impeachment purge. Trump has instructed aides to identify and remove officials across the government who aren’t defending his interests, and he wants them replaced with loyalists.
Maguire, a career official who is respected by the intelligence rank and file, was considered a leading candidate to be nominated to the post of DNI, White House aides had said. But Trump’s opinion shifted last week when he heard from a Republican ally about the official’s remarks.
The NYT account offers a contrary take:
On Wednesday, the president announced that he was replacing Mr. Maguire with Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and an aggressively vocal Trump supporter. And though some current and former officials speculated that the briefing might have played a role in that move, 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 kinship with Mr. Maguire.
Both sets of reporters are first-rate and both accounts are plausible, in that they mesh with what we know of Trump’s temperament.
A report by Ken Dilanian and Andrea Mitchell of NBC News (“Trump angry after House briefed on 2020 Russia election meddling on his behalf“) buttresses the WaPo account:
President Donald Trump pushed aside his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, because he was angry that lawmakers were briefed about Russia’s plan to interfere in the 2020 election to help Trump, a former intelligence official briefed on the matter told NBC News.
But it’s possible that this is simply a matter of one or two officials spreading the same account to multiple outlets. Regardless, we’ve been without a Senate-confirmed DNI for six months now. NBC’s report indicates substantial turmoil as a result:
The former official and another former senior intelligence official said the developments have caused serious concern among intelligence officials.
“ODNI is nearing a meltdown,” the second official said after news broke about Maguire being forced out over the Russia briefing.
Principal deputy director of national intelligence Andrew Hallman is also leaving his job, the second former official said, a departure that “is very distressing to intelligence professionals.”
“It is clear that the recent decisions by the President have caused a lot of consternation in the intelligence community,” the first former official said. “I’m not aware of any kind of planned response, but a lot of people are concerned about the role of the Oversight Committees going forward in this situation.”
The WaPo editorial board is furious about this and, especially, with the choice of Grenell as the latest Acting DNI.
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S campaign to purge the government of anyone not blindly loyal to him continued Wednesday with the appointment of Richard Grenell as acting director of national intelligence. Mr. Grenell, who currently serves as ambassador to Germany, is manifestly unqualified for the job, even in an acting capacity. He has no experience in intelligence or in managing large organizations — like the 17 agencies that will now report to him.
Mr. Grenell has nevertheless won the president’s favor in a familiar way: by loudly praising him and his agenda on Fox News programs and social media. Probably, he has convinced Mr. Trump he can be counted on to put the president’s personal and political interests above those of national security — something the two previous DNIs would not reliably do.
Daniel Coats, the first intelligence chief under Mr. Trump, infuriated the president by publicly reporting and defending the agencies’ overwhelming consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in an effort to help Mr. Trump, and was likely to do so again. Joseph Maguire, who served as acting director after Mr. Coats’s departure last summer, brokered a deal with the House Intelligence Committee to hand over a whistleblower’s report on Mr. Trump’s abuse of power in Ukraine. He was also blamed by the president for a briefing on 2020 election security given by an intelligence official to Congress last week.
Mr. Grenell’s sycophantic pandering to Mr. Trump suggests he will show no such independence. Before being elevated by the president to the Berlin ambassador’s post, his government experience amounted to working in the early 2000s as a U.S. spokesman at the United Nations, where he was known for nasty disputes with journalists. In Berlin, he quickly made himself unwelcome with public attacks on German government policies and outspoken support for right-wing nationalist movements around Europe. Though he can’t necessarily be blamed for Mr. Trump’s dismal standing among Germans — 13 percent said in a recent Pew Research Center poll that they had confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs, the lowest figure in Europe — Mr. Grenell certainly contributed to it.
While I don’t dissent from that view, multiple reports would seem to indicate that Grenell is a short-term solution. The Hill and the Washington Times are among many outlets reporting that another less-than-qualified loyalist is in line for the permanent post.
President Trump on Thursday said he is considering Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) to serve as director of national intelligence.
Trump told reporters aboard Air Force Once while traveling to Nevada from a Colorado campaign rally that Collins is among the candidates in the running to be nominated to fill the position that has not had a permanent occupant since Dan Coats resigned last August.
Collins has emerged as one of the president’s staunchest allies in the House. As head of the House Judiciary Committee, Collins staunchly defended Trump throughout the impeachment trial and was among the lawmakers who served as a messaging apparatus for his defense team during the Senate trial.
The congressman has launched a Senate campaign to run against Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in what has already become a bitter intra-party fight. Should Trump pick Collins to serve as director of national intelligence, he would likely abandon his Senate bid to serve in the president’s cabinet.
Collins served as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves and seemingly has absolutely no experience with intelligence matters. He doesn’t sit on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence or, as best I can tell, any committees related to foreign affairs. (His official House website, quite uncharacteristically, lists no committee assignments whatsoever and the House Clerk‘s site lists only the Judiciary Committee.)