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Trump's intel moves spark Democratic fury

President TrumpDonald TrumpSunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans Navajo Nation president on Arizona's new voting restrictions: An 'assault' on our rights The Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez 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 MaguireJudge dismisses Nunes's defamation suit against Washington Post Retired Navy admiral behind bin Laden raid says he voted for Biden Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts 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 SchiffSunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans Lone wolf actors post greatest domestic terror threat, FBI, DHS conclude State calls for Azerbaijan to pull back forces from Armenia border 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 PelosiIncreasingly active younger voters liberalize US electorate Sunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans The Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez 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 StewartChris StewartEPA administrator: We don't plan to return 'verbatim' to Obama-era water regulation On management of Utah public lands, Biden should pursue an accountable legislative process Georgia AG rejects prosecutor's request for Rayshard Brooks case to be reassigned 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 CoatsWill the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Experts see 'unprecedented' increase in hackers targeting electric grid Intel heads to resume worldwide threats hearing scrapped under Trump MORE. Trump’s initial pick — Texas GOP Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeTrump alumni launch America First Policy Institute Sunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Former Trump officials eye bids for political office 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 CicillineRomney: Capitol riot was 'an insurrection against the Constitution' Democrat moves to censure three Republicans for downplaying Jan. 6 Democrats reintroduce legislation to ban 'ghost guns' 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 WarnerBiden signs executive order to improve federal cybersecurity Overnight Defense: Former Pentagon chief to testify about Capitol riot Wednesday | Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move Wyden: Funding infrastructure with gas tax hike a 'big mistake' 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 McCarthySunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans McCarthy dings Biden after meeting: Doesn't have 'energy of Donald Trump' Cheney: McCarthy should 'absolutely' testify before Jan. 6 commission 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 ClintonCongress won't end the wars, so states must Democrats say it's up to GOP to stop Trump 2024 Hillary Clinton to speak at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders summit MORE. Former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s report further supported those findings.

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

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren calls for US to support ceasefire between Israel and Hamas Prominent Muslim group to boycott White House Eid celebration over stance on Israel-Gaza violence Biden speaks with Israel's Netanyahu again amid ramped-up strikes in Gaza 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 PutinTime for jaw-to-jaw with Moscow Hillicon Valley: Colonial pipeline is back online, but concerns remain | Uber, Lyft struggle with driver supply | Apple cuts controversial hire Menendez calls on Biden to support Armenia amid rising tensions with Azerbaijan 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.