President Donald Trump’s top security adviser claimed in a recent interview with ABC News that he hasn’t seen evidence of Russia working to sway the 2020 U.S. presidential election in Trump’s favor.
When asked by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos whether he’s seen anything from the intelligence community that indicates Russia is working to bring about Trump’s re-election, national security adviser Robert O’Brien said no.
“I haven’t seen any intelligence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump re-elected,” O’Brien said, noting that, as a national security adviser, he gets “pretty good access” to information from the intelligence community.
The full interview with O’Brien aired on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday. A transcript was made public Saturday.
O’Brien called the reports a “non-story,” despite Russia’s history of tampering with elections in Trump’s favor. The intelligence community concluded in 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee with the ultimate aim of helping secure Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential contest.
The Associated Press, citing anonymous sources, received contradicting reports about whether there was intel on Russia pushing for Trump’s reelection.
An intelligence official told the AP that intelligence officials did not tell House committee members that Russia was trying to aid Trump’s campaign. However, others familiar with that meeting said Russia was indeed trying to do just that.
One source who was present at the meeting with the director of national intelligence’s team said that O’Brien’s claims about Russia and Trump’s re-election campaign “do not accurately reflect” what they themselves heard at that meeting, CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta reported.
Speaking to Stephanopoulos, O’Brien did agree with reports that Russia is trying to boost the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a front-runner in the Democratic primary. Sanders has emphatically rejected Russia’s help.
In his interview with ABC, O’Brien attempted to link Sanders’ honeymoon, which took place in 1988, to Russia’s meddling.
“That’s no surprise. He honeymooned in Moscow,” he said.
Critics noted that Trump himself has taken numerous trips to Moscow and had business dealings there, including the Miss Universe pageant in 2013 and the Trump Organization’s previous plans to build a tower there.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that intelligence officials briefed the House Intelligence Committee on Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2020 race in order to get Trump reelected.
O’Brien said he had heard of the reports on the House committee being briefed. He admitted he wasn’t there, but claimed that he heard from those briefing the lawmakers that the reports were “not what they intended the story to be.”
When asked if he has a responsibility as the national security adviser to find out whether reports that Russia wants Trump to win reelection are valid, O’Brien danced around the question.
“I don’t know ― these are leaks,” O’Brien said. “I’m telling you I haven’t seen the intel and I haven’t seen the analysis.”
Stephanopoulos interrupted, “Have you asked for it?”
“Look, I want to get whatever analysis they’ve got and I want to make sure that the analysis is solid,” O’Brien said. “I mean, you know, from what I’ve heard ― again, this is only what I’m seeing in the press ― it doesn’t make any sense.”
O’Brien also denied reports that Trump scolded outgoing acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire after he learned that House lawmakers were briefed on Russia’s alleged attempts to meddle in the 2020 election in Trump’s favor.
Trump announced this week that Maguire was leaving his post, and named Richard Grenell, an ally of the president, as his replacement.
Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, on Sunday echoed O’Brien’s denials about Maguire’s ouster as well as reports that Russia favors Trump.
“I think that there’s not intelligence that said that the Russians are trying to help Donald Trump win election,” Short said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
“It’s hard to see why they would be choosing Donald Trump over Bernie Sanders,” he added.
Host Chris Wallace noted that Shelby Pierson, the U.S. intelligence community’s top election security official, briefed Congress earlier this month about Russia developing “a preference” for Trump.
Short said he wouldn’t comment on the classified congressional meeting, but claimed the president did not receive such information during his own briefing on election security.
On Friday, Sanders denounced Russia’s alleged interference in the election.
“Unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election,” Sanders said in a statement.
“I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president,” he continued. “My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do. In 2016, Russia used internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020.”