Russia Seeks To Help Trump Win In 2020, Assures Senior Law Enforcement Official To Legislators

Trump jokes with Putin about interference in elections 0:18

(CNN) – The leading electoral security officer of the US intelligence community He had an informative session with lawmakers last week, in which he warned them that the intelligence community believes that Russia is already taking steps to interfere in the 2020 elections in order to help President Donald Trump win, he was told CNN three sources familiar with the matter.

Last week’s briefing, led by the election security official Shelby Pierson and initially reported by The New York Times, addressed the overall picture of Russia’s efforts, including hacking, the use of social networks such as weapons and attacks on electoral infrastructure, said one of the sources.

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Informants said Russia does favor Trump, but that helping the president was not the only thing they were trying to do: something had also been designed to raise questions about the integrity of the electoral process, the source added.

Trump was enraged during a meeting with the outgoing interim director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, last week for allowing information on Russia’s meddling efforts to be included in the briefing, a White House official said.

Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections – that the US intelligence community He believed he aimed to boost Trump’s candidacy and affect his rival, Hillary Clinton – led to the investigation of special prosecutor Robert Mueller. Now, the possibility of interference in the 2020 elections will further test the US defenses against foreign interference, which Trump has repeatedly minimized, by dismissing any hint that the influence of the Kremlin played a role in his election as president. .

A national security official in the Trump administration told CNN that Pierson could have misunderstood the intelligence that Russia has developed a preference for Trump.

“A more reasonable interpretation of intelligence is not that they have a preference, it is a step before that. It is more than they understand that the president is someone with whom they can work, he is a negotiator. But it’s not that they prefer him over (Bernie) Sanders or (Pete) Buttigieg or anyone else. So, that may have been misunderstood by Shelby, ”said the official.

James Clapper, who was director of National Intelligence in the government of President Barack Obama, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in “The Situation Room” on Thursday that it is “quite predictable” that Russia will try again to interfere with the elections.

“This is not a big surprise, but it illustrates the tremendous challenge that the intelligence community has when it is gathering facts that our president does not want to hear, and with the result that the messenger was shot in the way Joe Maguire gets He asked him to leave, ”Clapper said.

The briefing was a factor for the change of director of National Intelligence

The news about Pierson’s classified briefing with lawmakers about Russia was not well received by Trump or the House of Representatives Republicans, sources told CNN. When Trump found out, he seemed mostly frustrated because the president of the House Intelligence Commission Adam Schiff, a highly critical Democrat, was included in the briefing, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Trump believed that Schiff in particular could use the information to try to undermine him during the next few months while in the race for re-election, the person said, and the president blamed Maguire for the data that reached Schiff.

Schiff, a California Democrat, tweeted on Thursday night that if Trump interferes with intelligence reports to Congress about threats of foreign interference, “he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign interference. Exactly as we warned you would do. ”

However, the national security official said Trump was upset because he learned about the intelligence conclusion through a member of Congress and not the intelligence community, describing Trump as “out of line with Maguire in that process.” .

A former high-ranking intelligence official dismissed the idea that Pierson had shown preferential treatment towards Schiff and the Democrats during his electoral security briefing, and suggested that Trump’s response indicates that he and the intelligence community “still cannot. communicate on this subject. “

“What the (intelligence community) considers to report the truth – a simple statement of facts in evidence without any trial – the president sees it as something that undermines its legitimacy,” the former official told CNN.

On Wednesday, Trump announced that he would appoint Richard Grenell, a staunch supporter and current US ambassador. in Germany, as interim director of National Intelligence despite having no experience in this sector. A source familiar with the internal discussions indicated that White House officials saw Grenell as a good provisional solution for the interim vacancy of National Intelligence, as Maguire’s time was running out and there was Trump’s dissatisfaction with Maguire for intelligence information.

Trump confirmed in a tweet on Thursday night that he plans to nominate a permanent National Intelligence director soon, and presented Georgia representative Doug Collins, the leading Republican in the House Judicial Commission and an ally of Congress, for the position when he talked to reporters on the Air Force One.

Grenell was already being considered for other positions in the White House when filling the position of the National Intelligence leadership became a pressing need, the source added.

On Thursday night, an intelligence official confirmed to CNN that the second in command in National Intelligence, Andrew Hallman, will also leave his interim post.

Repeated rejections about the threat of Russia

Trump has minimized Russia’s efforts to interfere in US elections multiple times. and has rejected the findings of US intelligence agencies.

In particular, the president seemed to side with Russia’s claims instead of his intelligence community’s assessment of the interference in the 2016 elections when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in July 2018 .

Trump and Russian interference 3:02

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I must tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial,” Trump told reporters while he was with the Russian leader. He later claimed to have used the wrong words.

Since then, US intelligence officials They have continued to constantly warn about Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere in the US elections, noting the threats in both the midterm elections of 2018 and the presidential race of 2020. Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Commission Senate Judiciary that Russia continued to “participate in the foreign evil influence” in line with the objective of sowing division and discord, “and generating controversy, generating distrust in our democratic institutions during our electoral processes.”

At that time, Wray said he could not publicly answer a question about whether the Russians aimed to help or affect specific political campaigns.

Pierson herself has been at the forefront of the issue of foreign interference in the 2020 elections, as senior officials have tried to raise awareness about the nature of the threat that took the majority of the American public by surprise in 2016.

“The Russians, for example, are already participating in influential operations in relation to the candidates that will enter 2020. But we have no evidence at this time that our adversaries are directly seeking to interfere with vote counts,” Pierson told NPR in an interview last month.

The day he was replaced, Maguire wrote an opinion piece along with other senior election security officials, including Wray and the secretary of Justice, in which he issued a similar warning about Russia and other foreign actors.

“The states have made significant progress since 2016, but as long as the threat persists, there is work to be done. We still have to identify any activity designed to avoid voting or change votes. However, we are attentive to any malicious activity of cybercriminals and foreign actors such as Russia, China and Iran, ”they wrote.

Jake Tapper, Alex Marquardt and Paul LeBlanc, all from CNN, contributed to this report.



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