Trump rejects intelligence warning on Russia meddling as Democratic 'disinformation campaign'

House Intel Committee Chairman Adam Schiff warns president is 'jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling'

John T. Bennett
Washington
Friday 21 February 2020 18:28
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Former CIA director sounds alarm at Trump’s ‘virtual decapitation of intelligence community’

Donald Trump is again breaking with his own intelligence agencies, calling a warning senior US national security officials delivered about Russia again trying to interfere in an American election a "disinformation campaign" orchestrated by Democrats.

The president has time and again publicly and privately rejected the findings of his intelligence and other national security officials, and has never fully endorsed the notion that Moscow was behind meddling in the 2016 election that put him in the White House. All 16 US intelligence agencies issued a finding agreeing that Russia was responsible, the kind of unanimous conclusion that is difficult to achieve in the complicated intelligence realm.

"Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa," Mr Trump tweeted on Friday.

He was referring to a closed-door briefing US intelligence officials delivered to a group of senior lawmakers, including Democrats who run House national security committees.

The president reportedly was angry that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff was one of the members briefed about Russia's renewed efforts to interfere in the election, and at the officials' conclusion that the Kremlin would prefer keeping him in the White House for four more years.

Mr Schiff was House Democrats' leading impeachment manager during the Senate trial that led to Mr Trump's acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstructing a congressional investigation.

Mr Trump reportedly chided then-Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire for briefing the group of lawmakers – even though such briefings have long been commonplace under presidents of both parties. Though Maguire was soon required to leave his post – under US law, acting officials are time-limited – Mr Trump pushed him out early and replaced him with Richard Grenell, a loyalist who will also remain in his current role as US ambassador to Germany.

Democrats have howled over Mr Grenell's appointment and his lack of any intelligence experience, with top Republicans defending the move by saying he receives classified briefings and information via his current role.

Because Congress has some constitutional powers over national security, as well as its oversight role of the executive branch and control of taxpayer funds, commanders in chief have tried to keep senior members of both parties informed about threats and foreign operations.

Some Democrats, however, have groused that such briefings have been less frequent – and less informative – since Mr Trump took office. (On the flip side, the late Senator John McCain, a Republican, frequently fumed that national security briefings by officials sent by then-President Barack Obama, a Democrat, were equally non-illuminating.)

Mr Schiff took to Twitter on Thursday to defend the practice of member briefings on threats and other national security topics.

"We count on the intelligence community to inform Congress of any threat of foreign interference in our elections," he wrote. "If reports are true and the president is interfering with that, he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling."

He then harkened back to a warning he and other House Democratic impeachment managers delivered during their hours of making their prosecution case on the Senate floor, writing: "Exactly as we warned he would do."

The House Democrats told Senate Republicans, while unsuccessfully pleading for them to convict and remove Mr Trump, that an acquittal would embolden him to go even further in busting traditional Washington norms – and possibly blast through laws, all for his personal benefit.

"This is a crisis," former CIA Director John Brennan told MSNBC on Friday, saying Mr Trump wants to "squelch" the intelligence community.

The president has been reluctant to clearly acknowledge Russia meddled in the 2016 election, even though his administration has retaliated via sanctions and other moves. Some have suggested Mr Trump feels insecure, that him condemning Moscow or touting his administration's efforts to punish Vladimir Putin's government would be seen as a sign his election was aided by Russians.

For their part, Kremlin officials on Friday denied the US intelligence officials' allegations.

"These are more paranoid announcements which, to our regret, will multiply as we get closer to the (U.S.) election," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to Reuters. "They have nothing to do with the truth."

Notably, Mr Trump delivered a similar message, ending his tweet with this dig at House Democrats and other entities that have investigated his campaign, business dealings and presidency: "Hoax number 7!"

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