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Richard Grenell, Trump's acting DNI, declines to meet with Congress for election threats briefing

Maura Beard, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), said in a statement that the agency never told Congress that Grenell would participate in the briefing. She said so despite a list circulated to lawmakers Monday showing that he was scheduled to appear.

“FBI and DHS are the lead in charge of securing our elections, and the [intelligence community] is participating in today’s briefings in support of that mission,” Beard’s statement said, referring to the Department of Homeland Security. “The [intelligence community] is focused on detecting and countering foreign election-related threats.”

The intelligence community’s top counterintelligence official, William Evanina, will appear instead, Beard said.

Grenell’s name had been included in a list of briefers given to Congress on Feb. 27 and again Monday, people familiar with the matter said, along with other national security officials including FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, National Security Agency Director Paul M. Nakasone and acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf.

The latest list of briefers, provided to Congress on Tuesday morning, included Evanina in lieu of Grenell.

Trump has long chafed at notions that Russia has interfered in or sought to intervene in the election, dating back to his pique at the U.S. intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Moscow took steps to aide his election in 2016.

“There is another Russia, Russia, Russia meeting today,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “It is headed up by corrupt politician [House Intelligence Committee Chairman] Adam “Shifty” Schiff, so I wouldn’t expect too much!”

Schiff tweeted in response: “Mr. President, you are wrong. As usual. Today’s briefing for all House Members focuses on the threat of foreign interference in our election. The briefers are agency heads and senior officials. They are your own people. We will insist on the truth, whether you like it or not.”

Another notable absence in the briefings is the intelligence community official who ordinarily would appear before Congress, election threats executive Shelby Pierson, who was not scheduled to be present at the closed, all-members meetings in the House and the Senate scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

She drew Trump’s ire last month after she informed lawmakers that Russia had developed “a preference” for Trump. Though she believed she was fulfilling her duty to keep Congress informed about foreign interference attempts, the disclosure angered the president, who feared Democrats would leak the assessment to undermine him in the 2020 election.

The following week, Trump fired Maguire and replaced him with Grenell, another loyalist and the current U.S. ambassador to Germany. Grenell, who is serving in both positions, has made clear he sees his acting DNI role as short-term.

Grenell, who lacks substantive intelligence community experience, has been one of Trump’s most vocal and partisan backers. Even before he took the ambassador position, he cast doubt on the idea of Russian interference in the 2016 election. In an opinion article for Fox News, he played down the severity of the threat, saying “Russian or Russian-approved tactics like cyber warfare and campaign of misinformation have been happening for decades.”

Tuesday’s briefing is part of a regular series to keep lawmakers apprised of the government’s progress in securing federal elections and on foreign interference. Congress in December mandated such briefings for leadership and the House and Senate intelligence committees.

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