President Donald Trump sidelined Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, after learning a member of Maguire’s team had briefed House lawmakers that Russia was attempting to interfere in the 2020 elections to get Trump re-elected, according to multiple reports.
The briefing angered the president so much that he berated Maguire, leaving him “despondent,” a source told The Washington Post. Shelby Pierson, the intelligence official in charge of election security, briefed the full House Intelligence Committee last Thursday, although it’s unclear what information she shared.
Trump was particularly angry that Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) — a powerful Democrat and a key force behind the impeachment inquiry against him — was present and could use the information against him, although the panel’s Republican members were also there.
The New York Times noted the president’s allies challenged Pierson’s conclusions, arguing that Trump had been hard on Russia.
The president said Wednesday that Maguire would leave his post this week (as acting director, Maguire would have been legally required to depart before March 12 anyway, but could have been nominated for the permanent position).
Trump then named Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, as the acting director of national intelligence, calling him a “highly respected” diplomat. Grenell is an outspoken Trump loyalist and often turns to Twitter, the president’s favorite medium, to show his support. He has little intelligence experience, and some Republicans were reportedly pushing for a candidate with a national security background.
Grenell is expected to stay in his position in Germany while he serves in an acting capacity in the DNI role, according to reports. It’s unclear if he will be nominated to fill the position permanently, as Trump had made it relatively standard to fill positions that require Senate confirmation with acting employees.
Grenell said Thursday on Twitter that Trump would announce a permanent nominee “(not me)” sometime soon.
Trump has long rejected U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia played an outsized role in his election victory in 2016 and is now working to aid his campaign for a second term. American intelligence agencies have been ringing similar alarm bells for years.
Christopher Wray, the FBI director, said earlier this month that the Kremlin was engaging in “information warfare” to weaken Americans’ confidence in democracy, although he said he hadn’t seen any attacks to target election infrastructure.