Many of the articles that legal analysts Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic have written for Lawfare have focused on President Donald Trump’s negative impact on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), including the FBI. But Wittes and Jurecic, in an article published by The Atlantic on February 25, turn their attention to another Trump target: the United States’ intelligence community.
Jurecic and Wittes note that after Trump became president, he “rejected important intelligence conclusions, particularly vis-à-vis Russia’s interference in the 2016 election” and “had little patience for” intelligence briefings. But Trump’s “abusive energy,” the legal analysis add, “focused far less on the agencies that collect and analyze foreign intelligence than it did on the Justice Department and its investigative component, the FBI. That changed this past week, when Trump moved decisively to politicize the intelligence community.”
Trump, Jurecic and Wittes warn, has been “transforming a group of agencies that produce apolitical analysis of regional and global trends and threats to the United States into a blunt tool of presidential power. The changes will make it easier for the president to lie about matters of the gravest consequence. The move is objectively alarming — and yet, for some reason, has not generated the alarm it is due.”
Jurecic and Wittes explain that on February 19, Trump fired the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and replaced him with a loyalist: Richard Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany. Like Maguire, Grenell (who has no intel experience) is temporary — and Trump has floated the idea of possibly nominating Rep. Douglas Collins of Georgia as a permanent intel chief.
Trump, Jurecic and Wittes point out, was “reportedly enraged” because Maguire, in an intel brief, warned that the Russian government planned to interfere in the 2020 presidential election in the hope of helping Trump get reelected.
“Grenell has moved swiftly to put his stamp on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, removing the #2 official, Andrew Hallman, and replacing him with Kashyap Patel, a White House national security official who had gained notoriety earlier as an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes — the Republican chief of the House Intelligence Committee, himself a peddler of conspiracy theories…. The president spent the week reshaping the intelligence community to serve his political needs, removing those who speak inconvenient realities.”
Jurecic and Wittes observe that National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien has been downplaying the Kremlin’s desire to interfere in the 2020 election.
“O’Brien’s comments offer a template for the politicization of intelligence to the president’s advantage in an election season,” the legal analysts warn. “A politicized intelligence apparatus can be used both to deny truths the president doesn’t like and to justify falsehoods the president wants to propagate — not to mention create an environment of distrust so that people don’t know what to believe. This is really dangerous stuff.”
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