The White House last year forced changes in a pointed intelligence conclusion that the Kremlin wanted President Donald Trump reelected, according to The New York Times Magazine.
Wording was dramatically watered down concerning Russia’s strong backing for Trump shortly after then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was forced into early retirement when he refused to make the changes, the Times reported. The classified document reportedly also discussed Russia’s ongoing efforts to influence U.S. elections in 2020 and 2024.
“I can affirm that one of my staffers who was aware of the controversy requested that I modify that assessment,” Coats told the Times. “But I said, ‘No, we need to stick to what the analysts have said.’”
A short time later, Coats was surprised to learn in a tweet by Trump that he was being forced into early retirement, several weeks before he planned to leave his position, the magazine reported. The language was changed after Coats left, according to the Times.
The report, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, was compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in July 2019, and made several “key judgments” about national security issues. “Key Judgement 2” concluded that Russia favored Trump to win in 2020.
But any suggestion that Russia favored Trump invited the president’s wrath, the magazine reported, and top aides “went to considerable lengths to keep the topic of Russian election interference off the president’s agenda.”
After Coats left, the intelligence report was modified to say that “Russian leaders probably assess that chances to improve relations with the U.S. will diminish under a different U.S. president,” the Times reported. The new language was far less pointed and made it sound like the Kremlin’s preference for Trump was a good thing for America.
But a new U.S. intelligence assessment revealed last week that Russia not only favors Trump, but is still actively working to influence the election.
The Kremlin is using a “range of measures” to “denigrate” and “undermine” presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in a statement released Friday. “Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television,” the statement added.
Trump dismissed the report.
“I don’t care what anybody says,” Trump told reporters when asked about the latest assessment. “I think that the last person Russia wants to see in office is Donald Trump because nobody’s been tougher on Russia — ever.”
In fact, Trump’s refusal to complain to or punish Russia for anti-American actions continues to confound observers. Trump has said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, even though the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that it did so in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” in a bid to sway the vote in Trump’s favor.
The president has also recently failed to take any action to punish Russia following revelations that the country was paying bounties to Taliban-linked militia members to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. He failed to even raise the issue in a recent conversation with Putin.