Russia backs Trump's reelection, and he fears Democrats will exploit its support

Adam Goldman, Julian E. Barnes, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos, The New York Times

Posted at Feb 21 2020 08:51 AM

US President Donald Trump (R) attends a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during the G20 summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. Brendan Smialowski, AFP

WASHINGTON — Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Donald Trump reelected, five people familiar with the matter said, in a disclosure 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 Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., 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 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 Maguire who has a reputation of delivering intelligence in somewhat blunt terms. The president announced Wednesday that he was replacing 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 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. Grenell had been in discussions with the administration about taking on new roles, they said, and Trump had never felt a personal kinship with Maguire.

Spokeswomen for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and its election security office declined to comment. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A 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 Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee.

The Washington Post first reported the Oval Office confrontation between Trump and Maguire.


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