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Intel: Russia Boosting Trump Candidacy 02/21 06:11

   Intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that Russia is interfering in 
the 2020 election campaign to help President Donald Trump get reelected, three 
officials familiar with the closed-door briefing said Thursday. 

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that Russia 
is interfering in the 2020 election campaign to help President Donald Trump get 
reelected, three officials familiar with the closed-door briefing said 
Thursday. 

   The warning raises questions about the integrity of the presidential 
campaign and whether Trump's administration is taking the proper steps to 
combat the kind of interference that the U.S. saw in 2016. 

   The officials asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. They 
said the briefing last week focused on Russia's efforts to influence the 2020 
election and sow discord in the American electorate. 

   The warning was first reported by The New York Times and The Washington 
Post. A senior administration official said the news infuriated Trump, who 
complained that Democrats would use the information against him. Over the 
course of his presidency, Trump has dismissed the intelligence community's 
assessment of Russia's 2016 election interference as a conspiracy to undermine 
his victory.The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the 
private meeting.

   One day after the Feb. 13 briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, 
Trump berated the then-director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and 
he announced this week that Maguire would be replaced by Richard Grenell, a 
Trump loyalist. 

   U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia interfered in the 2016 election 
through social media campaigns and stealing and distributing emails from 
Democratic accounts. They say Russia was trying to boost Trump's campaign and 
add chaos to the American political process. Special counsel Robert Mueller 
concluded that Russian interference was "sweeping and systematic," but he did 
not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. 

   Republican lawmakers who were in last week's briefing by the DNI's chief 
election official, Shelby Pierson, pushed back by noting that Trump has been 
tough on Russia, one of the officials said. 

   While Trump has imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia, he also has 
spoken warmly of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and withdrawn troops from areas, 
like Syria, where Moscow could fill the vacuum. He delayed military aid last 
year to Ukraine, a Russian adversary --- a decision that was at the core of his 
impeachment proceedings.

   The Times said Trump was angry that the House briefing was made before the 
panel's chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, who led the impeachment proceedings.

   Trump on Thursday formally appointed Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to 
Germany, to replace Maguire as the new acting director of national 
intelligence. Maguire was required to step down soon under federal law 
governing acting appointments. The Times cited two administration officials as 
saying the timing, after the intelligence briefing, was coincidental.

   Grenell's background is primarily in politics and media affairs. He lacks 
the extensive national security and military experience of Maguire, as well as 
previous holders of the position overseeing the nation's 17 intelligence 
agencies. 

   His appointment does little to heal the president's fraught relations with 
the intelligence community, which Trump has derided as part of a "deep state" 
of entrenched bureaucrats that seek to undermine his agenda. The administration 
has most notably feuded with the intelligence community over the Russian 
interference and the events surrounding Trump's impeachment. 

   Pierson told NPR in an interview that aired last month that the Russians 
"are already engaging in influence operations relative to candidates going into 
2020. But we do not have evidence at this time that our adversaries are 
directly looking at interfering with vote counts or the vote tallies."

   Pierson, appointed in July 2019 by then-Director of National Intelligence 
Dan Coats, works with intelligence agencies like the CIA, the FBI, the National 
Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to identify anyone 
seeking to interfere with U.S. elections. 

   Pierson told NPR that the U.S. doesn't know exactly what the Russians are 
planning, but she said it's not just a Russia problem.

   "We're still also concerned about China, Iran, non-state actors, hacktivists 
and frankly --- certainly for DHS and FBI - even Americans that might be 
looking to undermine confidence in the elections."

   At an open hearing this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House 
Judiciary Committee that Russia was engaged in "information warfare" heading 
into the November election, but that law enforcement had not seen efforts to 
target America's infrastructure. He said Russia is relying on a covert social 
media campaign to divide the American public. 


(KR)

 
 
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