Trump's intel moves spark Democratic fury

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE’s sudden decision to replace his top intelligence chief sparked criticism among congressional Democrats this past week after reports that the dismissal stemmed from a classified briefing on election security with a key House panel.

Trump reportedly moved to oust acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireCongressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts Wells Fargo told employees to delete TikTok from work phones Hillicon Valley: Pompeo floats TikTok ban | Civil rights groups slam Facebook after call | Election security funding included in proposal MORE after a senior DNI official briefed the House Intelligence Committee about Russian efforts to aid his reelection.

The president is said to have viewed the briefing as an act of disloyalty, in part because it involved sharing information with a House panel led by one of his political foes, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests Democrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat MORE (D-Calif.). He also reportedly said the briefing should not have occurred, while denying the analysis by intelligence officials and claiming the intelligence community is being “played.”

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“We count on the intelligence community to inform Congress of any threat of foreign interference in our elections,” Schiff tweeted after news of Maguire’s departure. “If reports are true and the President is interfering with that, he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling. Exactly as we warned he would do.”

Rather than wait until Maguire’s acting role expired next month, Trump on Thursday tapped a longtime loyalist, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, to serve as his new interim DNI chief before he nominates a permanent replacement.

That move prompted renewed warnings from Democrats that Trump is willing to accept the help of foreign nations to benefit his reelection campaign — a claim that was central to their impeachment effort.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNegotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (D-Calif.) on Friday condemned Trump’s DNI pick, comparing his lack of experience to her being asked to perform brain surgery.

“It would be like sending me in for brain surgery, to do brain surgery on somebody. What?! Just doesn’t know the territory. And it’s very important territory. So what the president did is dangerous," Pelosi said during a press conference in Houston.

The Washington Post first reported Trump’s motivations for removing Maguire, who was previously seen as the likely choice to lead the intelligence community. The New York Times later reported that the fallout was tied to the House briefing led by DNI official Shelby Pierson.

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Additionally, the House briefing is said to have turned contentious, with the president’s GOP allies requesting Pierson provide evidence for the intelligence community’s findings. It is unclear how Pierson responded.

Some Republicans also reportedly accused representatives from other intelligence agencies of seeking to hurt Trump’s reelection chances.

Rep. Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartAtlanta Wendy's 911 call the night of Rayshard Brooks's death released Tyler Perry offers to pay for funeral of Rayshard Brooks Current, former NHL players form diversity coalition to fight intolerance in hockey MORE (R-Utah), a senior member of the panel, declined to discuss the nature of the classified briefing but said if such claims about Russian interference were made, they would need to be supported.

“If briefers were to make such a controversial and sensitive comment, they need to be prepared to defend it,” Stewart told The Hill on Friday.

Stewart is believed to be a contender for the permanent DNI role, a source confirmed to The Hill.

Trump on Friday tweeted that the decision for a permanent replacement will be made “within the next few weeks,” adding that there are “four great candidates are under consideration” for the DNI role. He did not name the candidates.

The permanent appointee, if confirmed by the Senate, will take over the role previously held by Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet America's divide widens: Ignore it no longer Trump gives Grenell his Cabinet chair after he steps down MORE. Trump’s initial pick — Texas GOP Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHillicon Valley: Google extending remote work policy through July 2021 | Intel community returns final Russia report to Senate committee after declassification | Study finds election officials vulnerable to cyberattacks Intel community returns final Russia report volume to Senate after declassification review Hillicon Valley: Feds warn hackers targeting critical infrastructure | Twitter exploring subscription service | Bill would give DHS cyber agency subpoena power MORE — withdrew from consideration in August after a barrage of media scrutiny raised questions about his previous work experience.

While Democrats have long argued that Trump is dismissive of credible U.S. intelligence, they’re now voicing concern that the president is moving to replace career officials with loyalists, noting that Grenell is a staunch Trump defender known for making controversial and divisive comments. Maguire, meanwhile, is a former Navy SEAL who had a long military career.

“Richard Grenell is basically an internet troll. He’s a loyalist to the president and he is not qualified to hold this position even for a single day,” Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineFive takeaways from Big Tech's blowout earnings What factors will shape Big Tech regulation? Hillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence MORE (D-R.I.) told MSNBC. “The president has installed on a temporary basis someone that is loyal to him. We need someone that is loyal to our country.”

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee — the first hurdle for Trump’s eventual permanent DNI chief — slammed Grenell on Thursday.

"It appears the President has selected an individual *without any intelligence experience* to serve as the leader of the nation’s intelligence community in an acting capacity," Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Intel panel approves final Russia report, moves toward public release Former Virginia House speaker Kirk Cox mulling run for governor Mini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors MORE (Va.) said in a statement.

The president’s allies, however, praised Grenell, who previously served as a United Nations spokesman and political appointee.

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyBass honored US Communist Party leader in unsurfaced remarks Don't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency Overnight Health Care: Five takeaways from Fauci's testimony | CDC: Children might play 'important role' in spreading COVID-19 | GOP leader wants rapid testing at Capitol MORE (R-Calif.) in a tweet said Grenell has “a proven track record” of fighting for the U.S. 

Grenell’s appointment comes as Trump has repeatedly and publicly cast doubt about the intelligence community, claiming there is a “deep state” of officials who are working against him in federal agencies.

From the early days of his administration, Trump has forcefully rebuked the earlier government assessments that Russia sought to help his presidential campaign in 2016 and hurt that of his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war Should Biden consider a veteran for vice president? Biden leads Trump by nearly 40 points in California: poll MORE. Former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s report further supported those findings.

But Trump isn’t the only candidate the Kremlin is reportedly seeking to help.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (I-Vt.) on Friday acknowledged that he was briefed by U.S. intelligence officials about Russian attempts to interfere in the 2020 elections, with The Washington Post reporting that Russia has sought to help his presidential campaign.

While only a small handful of members of Congress have been briefed about election security issues, both chambers are expected to be brought up to speed about potential threats in the coming weeks.

Shortly after the Post and Times reports surfaced on Thursday, Pelosi announced that the House would be briefed on March 10, the same day the Senate will receive its briefing.

“American voters should decide American elections — not Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUS 'deeply troubled' by escalating conflict in Libya Clyburn: Trump doesn't plan to leave the White House Russia planning mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign for October MORE. 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,” Pelosi said in a pair of tweets.