The top official in the intelligence community charged with election security overstated and left out facts during a congressional briefing earlier this month.
Three national security officials told CNN that the briefer, Shelby Pierson, failed to accurately relay intelligence findings to Congress having to do with Russia helping Donald Trump get re-elected.
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 officials said.
“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.”
That’s a huge, monumental error that raises questions about whether Ms. Pierson gave her own spin on the intel or whether someone else did it for her. Considering what happened the last time that Congress believed Trump was being materially assisted by the Russians, it’s hard to overstate the potential impact of this error.
Pierson’s characterization of Russian interference led to pointed questions from lawmakers, which officials said caused Pierson to overstep and assert that Russia has a preference for Trump to be reelected.
One intelligence official said that Pierson’s characterization of the intelligence was “misleading” and a national security official said Pierson failed to provide the “nuance” needed to accurately convey the US intelligence conclusions.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where Pierson is a senior official, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Shelby Pierson has served as Intelligence Community Election Threats Executive since July 2019. You have to assume that she has vast experience briefing Congress. But we’re to believe she lost her cool during “pointed questions” by members, which caused her to “overstep” and “assert” that Russia actually has a preference for Trump to be re-elected?
I call BS on that.
The ODNI is closing ranks to protect her, and my guess is that’s the last we’ll hear of this “overstatement.” In due time, Pierson is likely to be demoted.
It’s interesting that when word of this briefing leaked to the press the reports indicated that Trump didn’t accept the characterization that Russia wanted him re-elected.
Trump has been periodically briefed on Russian interference in the 2020 election, but was upset when he learned of Pierson’s characterization of the intelligence in part because intelligence officials had not characterized the interference as explicitly pro-Trump. One national security official said Russia’s only clear aim, as of now, is to sow discord in the United States.
This is different from the 2016 assault on the election process by Russia, when the intelligence concluded specifically that Russia wanted to help Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton. A post-election analysis concluded that “Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” The funding for the sophisticated campaign on social media to elect Trump was traced back to a Russian oligarch in Putin’s pocket. Denying Russian government interference in 2016 just isn’t credible.
But this time, it’s different. The social media companies are far more prepared and have learned to spot these false campaigns. States are also on guard against hacking their election infrastructure. Russia has probably figured the best they can do is sow chaos and disorder by supporting both Sanders and Trump.
Pierson, for whatever reason, couldn’t bring herself to tell Congress that.