President Donald Trump replaced Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire with the U.S. Ambassador to Germany and Trump International Hotel “gold-level” member Richard Grenell based on an erroneous belief that a standard congressional briefing was somehow an act of disloyalty, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
The reporting was later corroborated by NBC News.
A former senior official confirms to NBC News the accuracy of the Post's reporting — Trump's misplaced anger over an election security briefing cost Maguire the job https://t.co/TQWJ3Xey8R
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) February 20, 2020
Later on, it was reported that there’s a Russian election interference element to it all.
The revelation only exacerbated widespread frustration over the president’s decision to replace a 36-year military veteran–who served as the Deputy Director for Strategic Operational Planning at the National Counterterrorism Center–with an inexperienced political ally who even Trump believes might not be confirmed by the Senate.
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… https://t.co/Yvq5UVSPpA
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) February 20, 2020
According to the report, Trump admonished Maguire last week after learning that one of his ODNI staffers gave a classified briefing on 2020 election security to the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee (HPSIC). Many expected to be nominated for the position permanently.
It’s not clear if Trump was misled about the briefing or if the president didn’t understand that the House Intelligence Committee includes Republican lawmakers.
“It’s unclear what the official, Shelby Pierson, specifically said at the briefing that angered Trump, But the president erroneously believed that she had given information exclusively to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, and it would be helpful to Democrats if released publicly, the people familiar with the matter said,” according to the Post.
Trump nemesis Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is, of course, the chairman of the Committee, so you can imagine how Trump might feel about Schiff being told that Russian election interference in 2020 is a threat.
An anonymous committee official confirmed that Pierson met with the entire panel and did not meet with any members individually:
Members on both sides participated, including Ranking Member [Devin] Nunes, and heard the exact same briefing from experts across the Intelligence Community. No special or separate briefing was provided to one side or to any single member, including the chairman.
The New York Times added more fuel to the fire on Thursday when it reported that the ODNI told lawmakers Russia is attempting interfere in the 2020 election and wants Trump to get re-elected. The Times also noted there was some disagreement on whether this briefing really was the catalyst in showing Maguire the door:
Though some current and former officials speculated that the briefing may have played a role in the removal of Mr. Maguire, who had told people in recent days that he believed he would remain in the job, two administration officials said the timing was coincidental. Mr. Grenell had been in discussions with the administration about taking on new roles, they said, and Mr. Trump had never felt a personal kinship with Mr. Maguire.
It’s not clear if Maguire really was going to stay on anyway.
Critics swiftly castigated Trump for making such a consequential decision without first grasping the facts of the situation.
This is so dangerous. The president is punishing people for telling the truth about foreign attacks on our election and trying to prevent those attacks. Some days you just want to scream — how can only half the country care about this? https://t.co/VfBMEvdHZk
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) February 20, 2020
Attorney and daily anti-Trump critic George Conway called the president a “CRACKPOT.”
Message for everyone in the @realDonaldTrump administration:
YOU WORK FOR A CRACKPOT. https://t.co/HRA5MohFFe
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) February 20, 2020
Others suggested that Trump’s anger was about the actual information divulged in the classified briefing, with many speculating it would not look good for the president.
Ned Price, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama suggested the briefing was likely about foreign interference in the 2020 election in favor of Trump.
“It sure sounds like an adversary may be prepared to or in the process of placing a thumb on the scale for Trump in the 2020 election — and that Trump doesn’t want that known,” he wrote. “This is among the many reasons why we can’t have a lackey serve as DNI.”
It sure sounds like an adversary may be prepared to or in the process of placing a thumb on the scale for Trump in the 2020 election — and that Trump doesn’t want that known.
— Ned Price (@nedprice) February 20, 2020
That sentiment was echoed by NYU Law professor Ryan Goodman.
2. Seems like an even bigger deal, in its own right, if the President of the United States was correct that information provided to Congress would be helpful to the opposing political party and that's part of why he was furious.
(That said, DJT also thought briefed only Schiff.)
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) February 20, 2020
[Image via Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images]