Russian President Vladimir Putin “is not deterred,” said Connecticut Representative Jim Himes, Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee. Himes said Putin feels “empowered, probably inoculated into the United States because of the president’s behavior.”
Brian Murphy, the former senior intelligence official at the Department of Homeland Security, alleges in the complaint released on Wednesday that he was charged with withholding intelligence on Russian interference because it “gave the president a bad image. “. This follows reports that Trump berated his then chief intelligence officer after a Congressional briefing on the interference from Moscow, and that the president called for the dismissal of another official who told Congress that ‘He supported intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia interfered in 2016 with a preference for Trump.
The department denied Murphy’s claim, and the White House released a statement describing cases in which it said the president had taken action against Russia.
“This president has been determined that any foreign adversary seeking to disrupt our election will suffer enormous consequences,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said.
Senior Trump administration officials have been eager to focus more on China in talks about election interference, saying Beijing is the most potent danger. Although career intelligence officials say China is a major espionage concern, there is also bipartisan consensus, including in a report by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia directly intervened. in 2016 in an effort to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. This year, according to intelligence officials, Russia is working to disparage Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
Murphy is not the only one to say he felt prevented from raising the Russian threat head on.
Miles Taylor, as chief of staff to former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, has attended high-level administrative meetings and has publicly voiced his concerns over Trump’s leadership in recent weeks. In an interview, Taylor said Nielsen had to create a “shadow” National Security Council to deal with the issue because she felt the president’s own team had not called enough meetings to coordinate a response.
Once, when Nielsen attempted to communicate the seriousness of the threat in the run-up to the 2018 election, Trump replied that the whole question was “everything (expletive),” Taylor said.
In addition, Taylor said the President Trump had previously attempted to fire the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence chief after hearing the official told lawmakers he agreed with the assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
“The president himself has threatened to fire several people in the administration for even publicly supporting the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia, and this has had a direct and frightening strain on the ability of senior cabinet secretaries to go out and do what they need to do to thwart foreign interference in our democracy, ”Taylor said.
Trump’s stance on Russian interference, including publicly questioning the intelligence agencies’ assessment at a Helsinki press conference with Putin, colored his relationship with the spy chiefs.
Last February, Trump erupted after learning of a Congressional briefing implicating Russian interference, a senior administration official said, and berated acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire.
In claiming that Trump has been tough on Russia, the White House has highlighted actions such as closing Russian consulates on the west coast, expelling dozens of Russian agents from the United States, sanctions on hundreds of targets, the decades-long American suspension. – the old nuclear weapons treaty and millions of dollars in election funding.
The administration has also released public statements acknowledging the continued efforts by Russia and its proxies to interfere in the election, including one last month that said Russia was denigrating Biden. The Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned a Ukrainian lawmaker who leaked tapes of Biden calls that Trump promoted on Twitter but his own administration said was relying on a false account. Also on Thursday, the Trump administration’s Justice Department announced charges against a Russian national in a plot to sow discord in the United States.
But Taylor said that when he was in administration, the much more difficult options considered weren’t always considered when it came to Russia.
“We felt it was essential for the mission that the president firmly mock the Russians and punish Moscow for their interference and punish them harsh enough that they are dissuaded from re-engaging in foreign interference,” Taylor said. “The president didn’t want to do that. ”
Some administration officials argue that China, which has been aggressive in its efforts to steal American intellectual property, is the most assertive adversary. Intelligence officials say China prefers Trump to lose because it sees him as unpredictable and has expanded its influence operations and weighed the risks and rewards of more aggressive action.
But a statement from intelligence officials who accused Russia of actively trying to undermine Biden suggested that China’s actions against Trump were less direct. Microsoft, in identifying the two countries as well as Iran as being involved in the election-related hack, said those associated with the Biden campaign were among those targeted by Chinese state-backed hackers.
Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was concerned with the approach of the Nov. 3 election about the politically motivated distortion of intelligence.
“I’m not sure people understand the destruction naturally,” he said, “which can be caused by the politicization of intelligence.”
Associated Press editor Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.