2016 again? President Trump rejects intelligence reports of Russian meddling
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday minimized new warnings from U.S. intelligence experts that Russia is interfering in this year's election campaign, and revived old grievances in claiming that Democrats are determined to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.
Intelligence officials told lawmakers in a classified briefing last week that Russia is meddling with the hope of getting Trump reelected, according to officials familiar with the briefing.
But Trump pushed back against the notion that Russia is working again to help him win and accused Democrats of trying to politically damage him.
"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. Hoax number 7!” Trump tweeted.
The fresh intelligence warnings about Russian interference came in what has been a tumultuous stretch for the intelligence community.
A day after the Feb. 13 briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Trump berated the acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire in a meeting at the White House. Then this week, Trump abruptly announced that Maguire would be replaced by Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist who also will hold the job in an acting capacity.
Trump tweeted Friday that he was considering four candidates to serve as permanent intel director and expected to make a decision within the next few weeks. He told reporters Thursday evening that Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia was among those he's considering.
But Collins, who is vying for one of Georgia's Senate seats, said Friday he’s not interested in the job overseeing the nation’s 17 spy agencies.
The installation of Grenell, even in a temporary role, has raised questions among critics about whether Trump is more interested in having a loyalist instead of someone steeped in the complicated inner workings of international intelligence.
Grenell has a background that is primarily in politics and media affairs. Most recently, he’s been serving as Trump’s chief envoy to Germany.
The Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, dismissed Grenell as someone who, "by all accounts, rose to prominence in the Trump administration because of his personal devotion to Donald Trump and penchant for trolling the President's perceived enemies on Twitter."
From the start of his presidency three years ago, Trump has been dogged by insecurity over his loss of the popular vote in the general election and a persistent frustration that the legitimacy of his presidency is being challenged by Democrats and the media, aides and associates say. He's also aggressively played down U.S. findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
In addition to those findings by the major intelligence agencies, a nearly two-year investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller concluded there was a sophisticated, Kremlin-led operation to sow division in the U.S. and upend the 2016 election by using cyberattacks and social media as weapons.
Moscow has denied any meddling. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that the newest allegations are “paranoid reports that, unfortunately, there will be more and more of as we get closer to the elections (in the U.S.). Of course, they have nothing to do with the truth.”
But in the U.S., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted that, “American voters should decide American elections — not Vladimir Putin." She added that all members of Congress “should condemn the President’s reported efforts to dismiss threats to the integrity of our democracy & to politicize our intel community.”