Russia election meddling to help Trump, intel official tells Congress

BREAKING NEWS: Russia is interfering AGAIN in 2020 election to help Donald Trump get a second term, intelligence officials secretly told Congress

A senior intelligence official told lawmakers that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election to re-elect Donald Trump, it emerged Thursday.

The New York Times revealed that the official was part of a briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, which is chaired by Democratic Trump enemy Adam Schiff, and told lawmakers of both parties about Russia’s backing for a second Trump term.

Trump was furious when he learned that Schiff had been briefed, believing the information would be used against him.

Meddling? A senior intelligence official told the House Intelligence Committee that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is interfering in the 2020 election to secure a second term for Donald Trump

Key figures: Rick Grenell, Donald Trump’s ultra-loyal ambassador to Germany was named Wednesday as the new acting director of national intelligence, succeeding Joseph Maguire – whose aide told Congress that Russia wanted a second term for the president and was interfering to help

In the wake of learning that Schiff and other lawmakers had been briefed that intelligence officials believe Russia is trying to aid his re-election, Trump had a furious confrontation with the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire.

Maguire was replaced Wednesday night by Rick Grenell, Trump’s ultra-loyal ambassador to Germany.

The New York Times reported that two Trump officials said the timing was a coincidence and not because of the row about the briefing.

The official who told lawmakers Russia was meddling was named as Maguire’s aide Shelby Pierson.

The New York Times said that his conclusion had set off a row among members of the Intel Committee. 

Republicans on the committee, including ranking member Devin Nunes, attended the briefing and challenged Pierson about the conclusion. 

They argued that Trump had taken action against Russia and improved European security.

The intelligence community briefing will inevitably create new tensions between Trump and his spies.

He has publicly voiced his distrust at findings with which he does not agree, telling them in 2019 to ‘go back to school’ and accusing them of underrating the threat from Iran and over-emphasizing that from North Korea during a public briefing to Congress. 

Grenell is one of his closest loyalists, and will also make history as the  first openly gay cabinet secretary. 

It puts a hawkish pro-Trump figure in charge of the intelligence community but may not be a permanent move. There was no clarity on whether the ambassador would be formally nominated for the role.

Maguire had until March 12 to remain as acting DNI, a role he took when Dan Coats quit as the last permanent leader of the intelligence community.

Trump tweeted that Maguire could have another role in the administration; he had previously been director of the National Counterterrorism Center after a career in the Navy as a SEAL and chief of special operations.

Maguire and the wider intelligence community was thrust to the center of the news agenda by the whistleblower letter which accused Trump of wrongdoing in his relations with Ukraine.

Grenell is eligible to become acting director because he is already on a Senate-confirmed role as ambassador to Germany, having been voted through 56-42, and was sworn in by Mike Pence with his partner Matt Lashey at his side, becoming the highest-ranking gay official in a Republican administration.

Grenell has not worked in the intelligence community before but was also floated as a possible director of national security at the White House, a job which went to Robert O’Brien after the sudden departure of John Bolton.

He has already been outspoken on one intelligence issue, saying there is a need to prevent Huawei having access to 5G cell phone networks in the West.

He used Twitter to issue a direct warning to the UK this week that it faces losing access to U.S. intelligence – which he will now control – after prime minister Boris Johnson allowed Huawei to be part of building the country’s 5G network

Trump had a strained relationship with Coats, who had endorsed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the objective of promoting Trump over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Grenell has also led U.S. opposition to Nord Stream 2, a pipeline which was intended to increase the flow of natural gas from Russia to Germany.

The U.S. opposes it on strategic grounds, and has used sanctions to try to derail the project. 

And the move comes at a time when the Department of Justice has a prosecutor – John Durham – carrying out a criminal investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.

The focus of the probe has reported to be on the analysis which led to the conclusion that Russia had interfered in the election in favor of Trump.

It has also apparently focused on the actions of Obama-appointed intelligence officials John Brennan, the CIA director, and James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, who have both been frequent Trump targets and are outspoken public critics of the president. 

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