Donald Trump and Russia on Friday both angrily dismissed US intelligence’s account that Moscow is meddling in this year’s election as Democrats accused the president of betraying democracy.
US intelligence chief Joseph Maguire, whom Trump replaced on Wednesday with a loyal partisan lacking direct experience in the field, warned lawmakers of Russian interference in a classified briefing last week.
The US intelligence community publicly concluded that Russia intervened in 2016, including by manipulating social media, but Maguire reportedly revealed that Moscow wanted Trump to be re-elected and was meddling in the Democratic Party’s primaries.
Trump, who has repeatedly shown irritation at assertions that Russia helped him win the White House, denounced the latest assertions as the work of the rival party.
“Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa,” Trump tweeted, referring to the debacle in releasing results from the Democrats’ first contest.
“Hoax number 7!”
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the allegations were “like the usual paranoid announcements, which unfortunately will multiply as we get closer to the election.”
“Of course, they have nothing to do with the truth,” he said.
President Vladimir Putin, however, acknowledged when he met Trump in July 2018 that he supported the populist billionaire’s campaign, seeing him as friendlier to Moscow than rival Hillary Clinton.
An extensive report by former FBI chief Robert Mueller found that Russia intervened to back Trump but did not conclude that the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow.
Trump was later impeached in a separate scandal over holding back military aid to Ukraine, which is fighting Russian-backed separatists, to pressure the Kiev government to dig up dirt on a Democratic candidate.
The Senate, led by Trump’s Republican Party, acquitted him on February 6, after which the president swiftly removed officials who provided evidence against him.
– National security crisis –
Former CIA director John Brennan, who served under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, said the United States had entered “a full-blown national security crisis.”
“By trying to prevent the flow of intelligence to Congress, Trump is abetting a Russian covert operation to keep him in office for Moscow’s interests, not America’s,” he wrote on Twitter.
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said the 2020 election revelations showed the “enormous” challenge.
“It should worry, all of us, that we now live in an America where one political party seems to think that foreign interference helps them in an election,” she said at a CNN forum with voters in Nevada.
Senator Chris Van Hollen denounced both Trump’s appointment of a “novice” new intelligence chief and the Senate’s blocking of election reform bills backed by Democrats.
“Our intel agencies say Putin is interfering in our election to help Trump,” he wrote on Twitter. “What’s the definition of treason?”
Representative Eric Swalwell, who serves on the House intelligence committee, tweeted simply: “Agent for Russia.”
– Trump ally installed as director –
Few Republican lawmakers immediately spoke out, although Trump’s allies in the past have questioned why Russia would favor him.
While Trump has spoken with admiration about Putin, his administration, staffed with more traditionally Russia-skeptic Republicans, has provided military aid to Ukraine and pushed through sanctions that hit Moscow.
The New York Times, quoting anonymous sources, reported that Trump lashed out not at the purported Russian interference but at Maguire for allowing his staff to brief lawmakers — particularly Adam Schiff, the House intelligence chief who also led the impeachment drive.
While Maguire would have been obliged to leave next month as he was serving in acting capacity, Trump on Wednesday replaced him with Richard Grenell, the outspoken US ambassador to Germany.
Grenell was an unusual choice for the largely behind-the-scenes job as he has no direct intelligence experience and has made waves by irritating German leaders with his prolific online commentary.
A longtime media commentator, Grenell has played down Russian interference in 2016, saying that Moscow routinely conducts such operations.
While evidence for the latest meddling assertions is classified, Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders alleged at a debate Wednesday that Russia could be behind belligerent online remarks by his professed supporters that have drawn condemnation from other candidates.
Trump gambling his presidency on a voting group that may no longer exist
President Donald Trump is betting that his law-and-order scare tactics will energize white suburban voters -- but that demographic may no longer exist as it once did.
The president remains popular in rural areas, and he won over suburban voters by 4 percent in 2016, and Trump and his Republican allies are betting he can turn out non-college educated whites who may be disgusted by police violence but don't support protests, reported Politico.
“There’s a lot of concern about the way the Minneapolis police acted,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, a seven-term Republican from the northern Virginia suburbs. “But whenever you start looting — and now the stuff’s spread out to Leesburg, it’s in Manassas … the politics takes a different turn.”
‘One racist down. Hundreds in office to go’: Applause as Steve King is ousted in Iowa primary
"Goodbye, Rep. Steve King. You are certainly not the only white supremacist in federal government, but you were among the most prominent," tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
While acknowledging that the important work of ridding Congress of racist lawmakers is far from finished, progressives celebrated the ouster of white supremacist Rep. Steve King in Iowa's Republican primary Tuesday as a significant victory and a step in the right direction.
Amid pandemic, White House race becomes digital dogfight
The 2020 US presidential race is becoming a digital-first campaign as the coronavirus pandemic cuts candidates off from traditional organizing and in-person events.
On the surface, President Donald Trump has the edge over Democrat Joe Biden because of the incumbent's extensive digital infrastructure and large social media following.
But Biden has been stepping up his digital presence and is getting a boost from a handful of outside organizations seeking to counter Trump's messaging on social platforms.
Both sides agree that digital will play a critical role in the 2020 White House race as social media have taken the place of rallies and door-to-door campaigning.