This Friday, the Washington Post published a report stating that “U.S. officials” recently told Bernie Sanders that Russia is “attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic contest.”
The report was a godsend for Bernie opponents across social media and cable news, while others saw it as another ploy to undermine Sanders, who is now in a position to become the Democrats’ nominee.
The first question I asked when I read the WaPo report about Russia trying to help Bernie was, “who made that assessment & was there political influence?” If the Trump WH did it to undermine the IC assessment that Russia is backing Trump, we have a very big problem on our hands. https://t.co/ZaLrnnisJr
— Caroline Orr (@RVAwonk) February 22, 2020
Adding to the tension was White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien, who appeared on ABC News this Sunday and used the report as a way to suggest the usual claims of Russia favoring Trump are unfounded.
“Well, there are these reports that [the Russians] want Bernie Sanders to get elected president. “That’s no surprise — he honeymooned in Moscow,” O’Brien said, adding that it’s no surprise that Russia would favor Sanders over Trump since Trump has “rebuilt the American military to an extent we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan.”
O’Brien then claimed that he hasn’t seen any intelligence to suggest that Russia is trying to help Trump win the 2020 election. But according to CNN’s Jake Tapper, a national security official he spoke to condition of anonymity had “some tough words” for O’Brien. In a series of tweets, Tapper said that according to the official, the intelligence contradicts O’Brien.
“The report in the Washington Post, which broke the story, stated not that the Russians want Sanders to get election president, but rather that ‘Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic contest,'” Tapper wrote. “In other words, this is part of a campaign of sowing discord and as of now is focused entirely on the primaries. That senior national security contradicts O’Brien: ‘The intelligence is that there is no preference right now,’ the official said. “Not Bernie, not Trump.'”
According to Tapper, his source said O’Brien’s “first instincts” were likely “more political than that of a national security professional,” adding that “O’Brien’s comment about Sanders has nothing to do with intelligence data, or collection, and everything to do with pleasing the president.”
“By saying that, O’Brien injected himself into the campaign by commenting on a potential rival,” Tapper wrote, recounting the words of his source. “If he’s willing to say that as national security adviser, what does that mean for the next nine months? And what is he doing when the camera’s not on him?”
On Sunday evening, Tapper, Jeremy Diamond, and Zachary Cohen published a report on CNN.com stating that “the US intelligence community’s top election security official appears to have overstated the intelligence community’s formal assessment of Russian interference in the 2020 election, omitting important nuance during a briefing with lawmakers earlier this month…”
“The official, Shelby Pierson, told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election with the goal of helping President Donald Trump get reelected,” the report states. “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.”
Read the full report over at CNN.com.
[This article has been updated to include the report published at CNN]