Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, a disclosure to Congress that angered Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.
The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, Trump berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said.
Trump cited the presence in the briefing of Representative Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who led the impeachment proceedings against him, as a particular irritant.
During the briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Trump’s allies challenged the conclusions, arguing that he 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 Maguire who has a reputation of delivering intelligence in somewhat blunt terms.
Trump announced on Wednesday that he was replacing Maguire with Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and long an aggressively vocal Trump supporter.
Some current and former officials speculated that the briefing may have played a role in the removal of Maguire, who had told people in recent days that he believed he would remain in the job.
A Democratic House intelligence committee official called the Feb. 13 briefing an important update about “the integrity of our upcoming elections” and said that members of both parties attended, including Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee.
Trump has long accused the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s 2016 interference as the work of a “deep-state” conspiracy intent on undermining the validity of his election.
Intelligence officials feel burned by their experience after the last election, where their work became subject of intense political debate and is now a focus of a Justice Department investigation.
Part of the president’s anger over the intelligence briefing stemmed from the administration’s reluctance to provide sensitive information to Schiff.
He has been a leading critic of Trump since 2016, doggedly investigating Russian election interference and later leading the impeachment inquiry into the president’s dealings with Ukraine.
After asking about the briefing that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and other agencies gave to the House, Trump complained that Schiff would “weaponize” the intelligence about Russia’s support for him, according to a person familiar with the briefing.
And he was angry that no one had told him sooner about the briefing, the person said.
Trump has fixated on Schiff since the impeachment saga began, pummeling him publicly with insults and unfounded accusations of corruption.
At one point in October, Trump refused to invite lawmakers from the congressional intelligence committees to a White House briefing on Syria because he did not want Schiff there.
The intelligence community issued an assessment in early 2017 that President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an influence campaign in the previous year’s election and developed “a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
But Republicans have long argued that Moscow’s campaign was designed to sow chaos, not aid Trump specifically.
And some Republicans have accused the intelligence agencies of opposing Trump, but intelligence officials reject those allegations.
They fiercely guard their work as nonpartisan, saying it is the only way to ensure its validity.
Attribution:The New York Times