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Top election security intelligence official staying in her job after appearing to overstate Russia's efforts to aid Trump's reelection

The US intelligence community's top election security official,...

Posted: Feb 25, 2020 8:41 PM

The US intelligence community's top election security official, who appeared to have overstated the intelligence community's formal assessment of Russian interference in the 2020 election, said Tuesday she will be staying in her current post.

"Ambassador Grenell has not asked me to leave. In fact, he has encouraged and affirmed his support for my position here in the organization. I have not asked to depart nor discussed resignation in any way," Shelby Pierson said in a statement Tuesday night.

Pierson reportedly told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election with the goal of helping President Donald Trump get reelected.

CNN reported on Monday that a senior intelligence official pushed back on the reports that Pierson told lawmakers during the classified briefing that Russia's efforts were aimed at helping Trump get reelected.

"During the (February 13) briefing, the Intelligence Community did not state that Russia is aiding the reelection of President Trump," the senior official said.

The senior intelligence official also confirmed to CNN that the briefing was a pre-coordinated effort by multiple agencies that have briefed congressional committees before, and that this closed-door session was not just about Russia but multiple foreign actors. A source told CNN last week that the briefing discussed Russia's efforts at hacking, weaponizing social media and attacks on election infrastructure.

Three national security officials told CNN on Sunday that Pierson had omitted important nuance and expanded beyond the intelligence community's formal assessment, which does not include evidence that Russia's interference in this election cycle is aimed at reelecting Trump.

According to the national security officials, the US intelligence community has assessed that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election and has separately assessed that Russia views Trump as a leader they can work with, but the US does not have evidence that Russia's interference this cycle is aimed at reelecting Trump.

"The intelligence doesn't say that," one senior national security official told CNN. "A more reasonable interpretation of the intelligence is not that they have a preference, it's a step short of that. It's more that they understand the President is someone they can work with, he's a dealmaker."

One intelligence official said Pierson's characterization of the intelligence was "misleading" and a national security official said she had failed to provide the "nuance" needed to accurately convey the US intelligence conclusions.

Trump had reacted Tuesday on Twitter to CNN's Sunday report, writing "No surprise!"

News that Pierson is staying put comes amid a shake-up atop the Office of the Director of National Intelligence leadership structure, as acting Director Joseph Maguire was replaced by US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who then quickly forced out the No. 2 intelligence official in the US government, Andrew Hallman.

Maguire formally resigned last week after Trump made it clear he would not be nominated for the full-time intelligence chief job, a source familiar with the matter tells CNN. The briefing Pierson gave to lawmakers was a key component behind his ouster, with a White House official telling CNN that the President became irate with Maguire over it.

Last Wednesday, Trump announced that loyalist Grenell would serve as acting director, despite having no intelligence experience. Trump has yet to announce his nominee for the role, but two sources told CNN on Tuesday that the President is considering Rep. John Ratcliffe. The Texas Republican withdrew his name from consideration for the same job last year amid bipartisan concerns about his qualifications. Trump has spoken to him and to US Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra about the job in recent days, multiple sources said.

This story has been updated to add background information.

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