President Trump berated outgoing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on Valentine's Day because he was upset over an election security intelligence briefing for the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13, several major newspapers reported late Thursday. Trump was reportedly angry that Shelby Pierson, the election threat czar at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, had briefed lawmakers without his knowledge, and also that she had told them Russia is currently interfering in the 2020 election with the goal of helping Trump win re-election.
Specifically, Trump was furious that Pierson had briefed House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), The Washington Post reports. "Trump erroneously believed that Pierson had given the assessment exclusively" to Schiff, and he "also believed that the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly." It isn't clear where Trump got the impression Schiff was the only person at the bipartisan briefing, but "Trump learned about Pierson's remarks from Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the committee's ranking Republican and a staunch Trump ally," the Post reports. Nunes was at the briefing.
Trump has "fixated on" Schiff, "pummeling him publicly with insults and unfounded accusations of corruption," since Schiff started leading Trump's impeachment, The New York Times reports. In October, Trump even "refused to invite lawmakers from the congressional intelligence committees to a White House briefing on Syria because he did not want Mr. Schiff there."
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Accounts differ on how much the election interference briefing weighed on Trump's decision to replace Maguire with Richard Grenell, a loyalist who is currently U.S. ambassador to Germany — the Post says the incident "ruined Maguire's chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief," while two administration officials tell the Times the timing was coincidental and Maguire was never a contender — but "Trump's suspicions of the intelligence community have often been fueled by Nunes, who was with the president in California on Wednesday when he announced on Twitter that Grenell would become the acting director," the Post reports.
Some of Maguire's top aides are leaving, too, including acting deputy DNI Andrew Hallman, the Times reports, paving the way for "Grenell to put in place his own management team." Kash Patel, the Nunes aide "who helmed efforts to push back against the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation, has just started working in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence," The Daily Beast reports.
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