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Lawmakers, During Classified Briefing, Are Told Russia Wants Trump Reelected


Russia is looking to help President Trump win reelection in 2020. That, according to reports, was the stark warning delivered to lawmakers at a classified intelligence briefing last week. So how did President Trump react, and what did Republican and Democratic lawmakers make of the news? We're going to ask Ellen Nakashima with The Washington Post. She was one of the reporters on this story, and she joins me now.

Thanks for being here, Ellen.

ELLEN NAKASHIMA: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So what went down at this briefing?

NAKASHIMA: So last Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee received a classified briefing on election threats and what the U.S. government was doing to detect and to counter them. And at the briefing, the election threats executive, Shelby Pierson - she's the intelligence community's coordinator for election security against foreign threats - she relayed that there was intelligence that Russia essentially wanted to see Trump reelected, that Russia had developed a, quote-unquote, "preference" for the incumbent, for Donald Trump.

And that revelation was quite controversial amongst especially the Republicans on the committee, some of whom are quite skeptical that Russia really does want to help Trump reelected and were always skeptical of the intelligence community's conclusion in early 2017 that Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections.

MARTIN: But, Ellen, didn't we know that before? I mean, wasn't that the assessment of the intelligence community back then was that Russia had developed a preference for Donald Trump in the 2016 interference?

NAKASHIMA: Yes, indeed. I mean, we - the intelligence community had a high-confidence assessment in - essentially 2016 that not just Russia but Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to see Donald Trump elected and undermined the campaign of Hillary Clinton. But then-candidate Trump said he didn't believe it and even after he was elected continued to cast doubt on the conclusion of his own intelligence community.

MARTIN: So Shelby Pierson, this intelligence official, is now saying that Russia is basically just at it again.

NAKASHIMA: That's right. And just to be clear, not - it's not certain that she explained any actual steps they were taking to - currently to interfere but certainly that there was an intention to interfere and that they did have a preference for Donald Trump.

So that news got communicated to President Trump by the ranking Republican on the committee, Devin Nunes, who is also a staunch Trump ally. And when Trump heard that, he got very angry. He - in the - on Friday, the next day, he was given his own election threats briefing by members of the government, the intelligence community, FBI, CIA, DHS. And acting DNI Joseph McGuire was at that briefing.

And President Trump got very angry at McGuire and asked him a number of pointed questions about why he had even let this threat briefing happen, why the president hadn't heard about this first, why the president had to find out about this from a Republican congressman and not from one of his own intelligence officials. A few days later this week - in fact, on Wednesday - he announced he was replacing McGuire with Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, on an acting basis.

MARTIN: Ellen Nakashima with The Washington Post. We appreciate it.

NAKASHIMA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.