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Acting intelligence chief Richard Grenell to keep official who infuriated Trump over Russia testimony

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 2/26/2020 Katherine Doyle
Richard Grenell wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera © Provided by Washington Examiner

The intelligence community's top election security official will stay on despite angering President Trump by telling lawmakers that Russia was intervening in the 2020 election — in his favor.

The decision to keep election security coordinator Shelby Pierson is seen as an attempt to reassure intelligence officials, some of whom are concerned that newly acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a close Trump ally, will politicize intelligence. Grenell axed his deputy on his first day in the position, drawing concern that his efforts to "clean house" would shape a partisan intelligence service that would bend to the president's will.

Pierson said she had discussed election security with Grenell on several occasions since he was appointed.

"Ambassador Grenell has not asked me to leave," Pierson told the New York Times on Tuesday. Rather, Pierson said, Grenell "encouraged and affirmed his support for my position here in the organization. I have not asked to depart nor discussed resignation in any way."

Trump heard details of Pierson's Feb. 13 briefing to the House Intelligence Committee and was unhappy that he was again said to be favored by the Russian government. The Russia motif led to Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation into the Trump campaign, a "witch hunt" in the president's telling.

Trump challenged the claims of interference during a press conference in India on Monday, calling them "highly exaggerated."

According to the New York Times, some administration aides worried that the official responsible for the classified meeting would be fired. In a matter of days, Trump broached the issue with then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire before replacing him with political ally Grenell, who was at the time the U.S. ambassador to Germany.

But Grenell has stood by the official, whose hearing was supposed to reinforce the administration's assertion that American election systems are secure in spite of foreign influence campaigns on social media targeting voters. A February op-ed signed by senior administration officials Attorney General William Barr, FBI chief Christopher Wray, and others made a similar point, detailing the steps that agencies and states were taking to protect the election and calling on voters to stay informed.

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