On Election Interference, We’re Flying Blind

We can no longer believe anything that comes from the people who are supposed to protect our national security.

Last week we learned that Trump went into a rage about a briefing given to House lawmakers on Russian interference in the 2020 election and proceeded to fire Joseph Maguire, his acting Director of National Intelligence.

The official, Shelby Pierson, said several times during the briefing that Russia had “developed a preference” for Trump, according to a U.S. official familiar with her comments…Trump erroneously believed that Pierson had given the assessment exclusively to Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, people familiar with the matter said. Trump also believed that the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly, the people said.

The president replaced Maguire with Richard Gernell, a loyalist with no intelligence experience, but a long list of explosive right-wing statements.

Two days after the story broke about Trump’s rage over the intelligence briefing, there was an attempt to walk back what Pierson told members of the House.

The official, Shelby Pierson, told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election with the goal of helping President Donald Trump get reelected…

“The intelligence doesn’t say that,” one senior national security official told CNN. “A more reasonable interpretation of the intelligence is not that they have a preference, it’s a step short of that. It’s more that they understand the President is someone they can work with, he’s a dealmaker.”…

Trump has been periodically briefed on Russian interference in the 2020 election, but was upset when he learned of Pierson’s characterization of the intelligence in part because intelligence officials had not characterized the interference as explicitly pro-Trump. One national security official said Russia’s only clear aim, as of now, is to sow discord in the United States.

It is important to note that the “national security official” used the exact same language that Attorney General Barr used when he mischaracterized the Mueller report by saying that the 2016 Russian efforts were designed to “sow discord among American voters.” He completely left out the fact that the report clearly stated that the interference was an effort to disparage Clinton and support Trump.

On Sunday, national security adviser Robert O’Brien denied that there was any intelligence suggesting that Putin is doing anything to try and influence the elections in favor of President Trump. But he also said that it makes sense that they would be trying to help Sanders.

Trump is doing the same thing to the intelligence community that he has done to the Department of Justice: turning it into nothing more than a political institution to support him and attack his enemies. Just as we can no longer believe in the independence of DOJ, we can no longer believe anything that comes from the people who are supposed to protect our national security. That is what happens when our federal government becomes infected with politicized liars.

At this point, we’re flying blind when it comes to foreign attempts to influence our elections. To twist the metaphor a bit, that means that we’re also sitting ducks—which is a great victory for Vladimir Putin.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.