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Lawmakers are warned that Russia is meddling to re-elect Trump

Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, five people familiar with the matter said, a disclosure to Congress that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.
The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump was particularly irritated that Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the impeachment proceedings, was at the briefing.
During the briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Trump’s allies challenged the conclusions, arguing that he had been tough on Russia and that he had strengthened European security.
Some intelligence officials viewed the briefing as a tactical error, saying the conclusions could have been delivered in a less pointed manner or left out entirely to avoid angering Republicans. The intelligence official who delivered the briefing, Shelby Pierson, is an aide to Mr. Maguire and has a reputation for speaking bluntly.
Though intelligence officials have previously told lawmakers that Russia’s interference campaign was continuing, last week’s briefing included what appeared to be new information: that Russia intended to interfere with the 2020 Democratic primaries as well as the general election.
On Wednesday, the president announced that he was replacing Mr. Maguire with Richard Grenell , the ambassador to Germany and an aggressively vocal Trump supporter. And though some current and former officials speculated that the briefing might have played a role in that move, two administration officials said the timing was coincidental. Mr. Grenell had been in discussions with the administration about taking on new roles, they said, and Mr. Trump had never felt a kinship with Mr. Maguire.
Spokeswomen for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and its election security office declined to comment. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A Democratic House Intelligence Committee official called the Feb. 13 briefing an important update about “the integrity of our upcoming elections” and said that members of both parties attended, including Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee.
In a tweet on Thursday evening , Mr. Schiff said that it appeared that Mr. Trump was “again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling” with his objections to the briefing.
Mr. Trump has long accused the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s 2016 interference as the work of a “deep state” conspiracy intent on undermining the validity of his election. Intelligence officials feel burned by their experience after the last election, when their work became a subject of intense political debate and is now a focus of a Justice Department investigation.
Part of the president’s anger stemmed from the administration’s reluctance to provide delicate information to Mr. Schiff. He has been a leading critic of Mr. Trump since 2016, doggedly investigating Russian election interference and later leading the impeachment inquiry into the president’s dealings with Ukraine.
Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Schiff would “weaponize” the intelligence about Russia’s support for him, according to a person familiar with the briefing. And he was angry that he was not told right away about the briefing, the person said.
Mr. Trump has fixated on Mr. Schiff since the impeachment saga began, pummeling him publicly with insults and unfounded accusations of corruption. In October, Mr. Trump refused to invite lawmakers from the congressional intelligence committees to a White House briefing on Syria because he did not want Mr. Schiff there, according to three people briefed on the matter.
The president did not erupt at Mr. Maguire, and instead just asked pointed questions, according to the person. But the message was unmistakable: He was not happy.
Ms. Pierson, officials said, was delivering the conclusion of multiple intelligence agencies, not her own opinion. The Washington Post first reported the Oval Office confrontation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Maguire, but not the substance of the disagreement.
The intelligence community issued an assessment in early 2017 that President Vladimir V. Putin personally ordered a campaign of influence in the previous year’s election and developed “a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” But Republicans have long argued that Moscow’s campaign was intended to sow chaos, not aid Mr. Trump specifically.
Some Republicans have accused the intelligence agencies of opposing Mr. Trump, but intelligence officials reject those accusations. They fiercely guard their work as nonpartisan, saying it is the only way to ensure its validity.
At the House briefing, Representative Chris Stewart, Republican of Utah, who has been considered for the director’s post, was among the Republicans who challenged the conclusion about Russia’s support for Mr. Trump. Mr. Stewart insisted that the president had aggressively confronted Moscow, providing anti-tank weapons to Ukraine for its war against Russia-backed separatists and strengthening the NATO alliance with new resources, according to two people briefed on the meeting.
Mr. Stewart declined to discuss the briefing but said that Moscow had no reason to support Mr. Trump. He pointed to the president’s work to confront Iran, a Russian ally, and encourage European energy independence from Moscow. “I’d challenge anyone to give me a real-world argument where Putin would rather have President Trump and not Bernie Sanders,” Mr. Stewart said in an interview, referring to the nominal Democratic primary race front-runner.
Under Mr. Putin, Russian intelligence has long sought to stir turmoil among around the world. The United States and key allies on Thursday accused Russian military intelligence, the group responsible for much of the 2016 election interference in the United States, of a cyberattack on neighboring Georgia that took out websites and television broadcasts.