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2020-02-21 14:42:051 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Doug Collins (Image source: Public domain)
Although Donald Trump has for the most part refused to recognize it, it's been widely accepted as fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of helping him win, and they succeeded. He's been so intent on proving that wrong, it was one of the investigations he wanted Ukraine to conduct. He wanted to follow up on the conservative conspiracy theory that Ukraine intervened with a goal of helping his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But that theory was disproven long ago.
Election security officials have recently told lawmakers that Russia is already trying to help Trump get reelected in November. This is, of course, not news that was welcoming to Trump. He denied the past interference for four years, despite investigations, indictments, convictions, guilty pleas, and prison time for his aides in his administration and campaign. He's not going to go along with the intel that the Kremlin is interfering again.
Yet, according to three sources familiar with the matter, Shelby Pierson, an election security official, led a briefing last week of lawmakers that carried a warning that the intelligence community believes Russia is trying to intervene again to help Trump.
The overall efforts of Russia were addressed in the briefing: hacking, social media, and attacking election infrastructure, according to one of the sources. The briefing admitted that the Kremlin favors Trump, but helping him get reelected isn't the only goal — it also wants to raise questions in the U.S. about election integrity.
Trump became quite angry in a meeting with acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire last week when he allowed the election security officials to brief lawmakers about the latest intelligence on Russia, said a White House official. He replaced him with U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who is also a Trump International Hotel “gold-level” member.
A national security official in the administration told CNN that Pierson may have "mischaracterized" the intelligence that was shared.
"A more reasonable interpretation of the intelligence is not that they have a preference — it's a step short of that. It's more that they understand the president is someone they can work with; he's a dealmaker. But not that they prefer him over [Bernie] Sanders or [Pete] Buttigieg or anyone else. So it may have been mischaracterized by Shelby."
Former director of national intelligence under former President Barack Obama James Clapper said on CNN that it's "quite predictable" that Russia will try to interfere again in November.
"This is not a big surprise, but it illustrates the tremendous challenge that the intelligence community has where they're teeing up facts that our president doesn't want to hear and with a result that the messenger got shot in the form of Joe Maguire being asked to leave," he explained.
In addition to pushing out Maguire, Trump is trying to stack the deck. He announced Thursday night that he is considering naming Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) to fill the DNI spot permanently. However, Collins, one of Trump's staunchest supporters, is indicating he's not interested.
Collins is currently busy fighting in the primaries with Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) for her Senate seat. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed her to the Senate over Trump's objections when former Sen. Johnny Isakson retired.
Trump hinted at one point he would intervene in the Senate race between Loeffler and Collins, but the duel is raising concerns that the Democrats could potentially win a special election for that seat.
When approached regarding the DNI position, Collins said it's "not a job of interest to me at this time. It's not one that I would accept because I'm running a Senate race down here in Georgia."
Clapper is worried about Trump's choice of Grenell, a partisan with no real intelligence experience in this position." He added, "I spent my life in intelligence and found the DNI job the hardest thing I've ever tried to do. I can't imagine taking it on and learning the ABC's of intelligence on an on-the-job basis."
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