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Trump's intel moves spark Democratic fury

President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire 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 SchiffAngus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information Schiff says 'massive intelligence and security failure' led to Capitol breach Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration 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 PelosiWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Conspiracies? Let's investigate this one FBI investigating whether woman took Pelosi laptop, tried to sell it to Russians 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 StewartREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Atlanta Wendy's 911 call the night of Rayshard Brooks's death released 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 CoatsSenate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security New federal cybersecurity lead says 'rumor control' site will remain up through January Biden soars as leader of the free world MORE. Trump’s initial pick — Texas GOP Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHouse panels open review of Capitol riot Edward Snowden, the media, and the Espionage Act Overnight Defense: Top US general meets with Taliban | House panel launches probe into cyberattack | Army to issue face masks for soldiers in 2021 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 CicillineWashington state rep joins list of Republicans voting to impeach Trump Growing number of GOP lawmakers say they support impeachment Pelosi names 9 impeachment managers 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 WarnerSocial media posts, cellphone data aid law enforcement investigations into riots 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Confirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed 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 McCarthyHouse GOP lawmaker: Trump 'put all of our lives at risk' Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Democrats seize on GOP donor fallout 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 ClintonJuan Williams: The real 'Deep State' is pro-Trump Rep. John Katko: Why I became the first Republican lawmaker to support impeachment Can we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? MORE. Former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE’s report further supported those findings.

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

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden pushing to cancel Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he takes office: reports Biden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 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 PutinIncoming national security adviser calls for immediate release of Kremlin critic Navalny Kremlin critic Navalny detained in Moscow upon return to Russia Navalny planning return to Russia on Sunday 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.