Trump's intel moves spark Democratic fury

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill 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 MaguireSchiff calls on DNI Grenell to explain intelligence community changes Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Trump fires intelligence community watchdog who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint 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 SchiffHillicon Valley: Schiff presses intel chief on staff changes | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Twitter's Jack Dorsey to donate B to coronavirus fight | WhatsApp takes steps to counter virus misinformation Schiff calls on DNI Grenell to explain intelligence community changes READ: Schiff plans to investigate Trump firing intel watchdog 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 PelosiLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Mattis defends Pentagon IG removed by Trump Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash 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 StewartPentagon grapples with coronavirus outbreak Schiff says Democrats are negotiating to include more privacy protections in key surveillance bill Trump shakes up Justice Department, intelligence community 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 CoatsWe weren't ready for a pandemic — imagine a crippling cyberattack GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Experts report recent increase in Chinese group's cyberattacks MORE. Trump’s initial pick — Texas GOP Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeGOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Acting director of National Counterterrorism Center fired: report Acting director of national intelligence begins hiring freeze: reports 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 CicillineLocal news outlets struggle to survive coronavirus fallout The Hill's 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol: 'We are the captains of this ship' 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 WarnerDemocratic senator rips Navy head's 'completely inappropriate' speech on ousted carrier captain Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Trump fires intelligence community watchdog who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint 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 McCarthyLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Phase-four virus relief hits a wall House GOP leaders back effort to boost small-business loans 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 ClintonTrump, Biden set for tight battle in Florida We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Poll shows Biden with 6-point edge on Trump in Florida 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 SandersDrugmaker caps insulin costs at to help diabetes patients during pandemic The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic Sen. Brown endorses Biden for president 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 PutinNew START is not NAFTA Trump considers a cameo role in Saudi-Russia oil price drama Washington fiddles in the Balkans while COVID flames engulf the world 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.