Policy Summary

US intelligence officials have determined that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election. Additionally, they have deduced that Russia views Trump as a leader they can work with. Last week’s Intelligence  briefing of Congress about Russia’s interference  was spearheaded by election security official Shelby Pierson. The briefing, first reported by The New York Times, discussed details of Russia’s plan, which included “hacking, weaponizing social media and attacks on election infrastructure”, one of the sources said. The officials confirmed that Russia is partial to Trump. However, Russia’s activity showed they had a larger agenda, “designed to raise questions about the integrity of the elections process.”

Witnesses claim that when Trump heard about the briefing, he began to comment on the possibility of Democrats using it against him. The President became angry in a “meeting with outgoing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire for allowing the information about Russia’s meddling efforts to be included in the briefing,”, according to a White House source.

President Barack Obama’s former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, commented that it is “quite predictable” of Russia to attempt to meddle in the United State’s upcoming election o during an interview with Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room”. Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election  was targeted at assisting Trump’s candidacy while damaging the candidacy of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The possibility of further interference impacting the 2020 election will challenge US ability to stand up against international obstruction with our elections. This is an issue whose importance Trump has repeatedly minimized.

Policy Analysis

President Trump’s response to and retaliation against the claims of Russian election interference has been nothing if not predictable. On February 13th, he quickly removed the then-acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, upon hearing that Shelby Pierson, a high-ranking U.S. intelligence official, had alerted the House Intelligence Committee of Russian, pro-Trump interference in the 2020 election. According to testimony given to the committee, the Kremlin is supportive of Trump’s re-election, and is planning on and has begun efforts to interfere in the election process.

Trump’s response, as per usual, has been a “circle the wagons” approach. Calling Maguire into a meeting in the Oval Office on February 14th, Trump apparently upbraided him for his subordinate’s report and challenged his allegiance to the president. The next week, Trump made public that he would be replacing Maguire, who then resigned. U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, was announced as the new acting interim Director of National Intelligence, with the ambassador apparently keeping his position in Germany as well. Acting director is a position that Grenell can hold until March without Congressional approval. Grenell has been noted by many as an ardent Trump supporter and has little experience in national intelligence. He has worked as a Republican political advisor, spokesperson to the U.N. under the Bush administration, and media consultant. Facing criticism over the move and accusations of Trump cleaning house, the administration has pointed out that Maguire was set to be replaced in the near future due to federal law around term limits and claimed that the timing of his dismissal with the breaking of news about Russian interference is only chance. Trump has also taken to Twitter with accusations that the account of Russian interference in support of his re-election is propaganda spread by Democrats to oust him from power. Russia has denied the report, saying that it is based in paranoia and utterly false.

This is not the first time Russia has been accused of interference in a U.S. election in favor of Trump. Most can recall the 2016 elections and how Russia conducted social media promotions, spread false news, and hacked into and disseminated Democratic emails. Although evidence that Russia did in fact interfere surfaced and was brought to light by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, insufficient evidence of criminal conspiracy was found between the Kremlin or the Trump campaign. It was a story that made headlines, raised many an eyebrow, and called into question the legitimacy of Trump’s victory for some on the left, however. It would appear that Trump is once again rightly concerned about allegations and the implication that a rival power is interested in his successful re-election.

Trump’s reaction to the report by U.S. intelligence is hardly unexpected at this point. Looking back to Maguire’s predecessor, Dan Coats, one can almost discern a pattern. Coats was dismissed from his position three days after the now-infamous phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump attempted to replace Coats with John Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman with negligible national intelligence experience but who had been a fierce defender of the president. Ratcliffe would be rejected due to exaggerating his previous experience in intelligence (although as we go to press Trump has announced that he is going to re-nominate Ratcliffe to  serve as permanent DNI)

Anyone else noticing the parallel? A report that reflects poorly upon the president emerges from the intelligence community, the Director is dismissed (or resigns), and Trump attempts (unsuccessfully and successfully) to replace the intelligence professional with a loyalist. This should be extremely worrying to those on both the left and right. Trump does not appear to care about experience in his Cabinet or the facts. What matters is their personal loyalty to him and his brand. Does Trump have the power and right to choose those in his Cabinet? Yes, but this does not mean that the truth should be obscured or ignored. A Cabinet is not meant to be a board of lackeys that rubber-stamp whatever the president says and quash unwanted information. A foreign power interfering in a U.S. election is a national security issue and should be brought to public attention. It should not be brushed under the carpet because it damages a president’s possible re-election, no matter who the president is.

Engagement Resources:

  • FairVote is a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice, and a representative democracy that works for all Americans.
  • The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) advances good governance and democratic rights by providing technical assistance to election officials, empowering the underrepresented to participate in the political process, and applying field-based research to improve the electoral cycle.
  • Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building the political power of young people.
  • International Republic Institute strengthens citizen voices and helps make their leaders more accountable and responsive. We help women and youth to be heard. We keep citizens and their government connected, and develop awareness of voter priorities.
  • HeadCount is a non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters and promote participation in democracy. We reach young people and music fans where they already are – at concerts and online – to inform and empower.

This brief was compiled by Erin Mayer. This brief was compiled by Erin Mayer. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact ErinMayer@USResistnews.org

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