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Trump replaced top spy chief after spat on Russia’s 2020 election meddling

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  • President Donald Trump replaced Joseph Maguire as his top intelligence official after a congressional briefing on election interference that enraged the president, according to the Washington Post.
  • Trump reportedly believed that an official who works under Maguire had been disloyal. 
  • The president was led to falsely believe that the intelligence official in charge of election security fed Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff exclusive information. 
  • During the briefing, lawmakers were told that Russia is attempting to interfere in the 2020 election to help get Trump reelected, according to a separate report from the New York Times.
  • Maguire has been replaced with a Trump loyalist, Richard Grenell, who has been serving as US ambassador to Germany but has no background or experience in intelligence.
  • Grenell will now oversee the 17 agencies that make up the US intelligence community.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Joseph Maguire was replaced as acting director of national intelligence and lost his chance at being nominated for the role permanently after one of his top officials briefed Congress on 2020 election security last week, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. 

The classified briefing before the House Intelligence Committee last Thursday infuriated Trump, the Post said, and led to a “dressing down” of Maguire in the Oval Office the next day. Trump reportedly felt that Maguire’s staff had exhibited disloyalty. 

The briefing, was led by Shelby Pierson, the intelligence official in charge of election security who worked under Maguire. 

It’s unclear exactly what Pierson may have said during the briefing that upset Trump, the Post reported, but the president was led to falsely believe that she provided Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff with exclusive information that could help Democrats if released publicly. Schiff is the committee chairman and served as the lead House impeachment manager during Trump’s Senate trial. Trump has made his disdain for Schiff no secret, routinely lambasting the California Democrat on Twitter. 

Separately, the New York Times reported that during the briefing lawmakers were told Russia is attempting to interfere in the 2020 election to help get Trump reelected, and the president was concerned Democrats would go on to use this against him. 

According to the Post, this briefing was the “catalyst” for the president’s decision to replace Maguire with Richard Grenell, a controversial figure and Trump loyalist who’s served as the US ambassador to Germany. Grenell has no experience or background in intelligence, but is now charged with overseeing the 17 agencies that make up the US intelligence community.

Richard Grenell

Many conservatives would like to see President Donald Trump tap US Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell as the next US ambassador to the UN.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images


By law, which sets limits on how long Cabinet officials can serve in an acting capacity, Maguire could only serve as acting DNI until March 11. But Trump was apparently considering offering him the permanent role as his top intelligence official, until the recent congressional briefing set the president off. Since Dan Coats left last August, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has been without a Senate-confirmed director. 

Maguire was also at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Trump. Before the inquiry officially began, Maguire refused to turn over a whistleblower complaint to Congress that pertained to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s president. The complaint and a summary of the phone call were eventually released by the Trump administration in late September. Maguire testified to Congress at that time and defended the whistleblower, even as Trump and his allies publicly attacked the anonymous intelligence official who filed the complaint. 

Trump was impeached in the House in December, and essentially accused of soliciting foreign election interference in the 2020 election by urging Ukraine to investigate his political rivals while freezing congressionally-approved military aid to Kiev. 

In the July 25 phone call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a top-tier 2020 Democratic candidate.

The president has often expressed doubts about Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election, and also asked Zelensky to launch an inquiry into a bogus conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not the Kremlin, interfered in the past election. Trump has continued to exhibit skepticism, despite ongoing warnings from the US intelligence community about the potential for Russia, among other countries, to interfere in the 2020 election. 

The US intelligence community, which the president has repeatedly expressed animosity toward over the course of his tenure, concluded that Russia interfered in 2016 to boost Trump’s chances of winning.

The Senate Intelligence Committee in July 2018 released a report backing up the intelligence community’s findings.

In October, the committee released a report urging Trump to “reinforce with the public the danger” posed by foreign election interference leading up to the 2020 election.

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