The Slatest

“Let the Voters Decide” Doesn’t Work if Trump Fires His National Security Staff So Russia Can Help Him Again

Joseph Maguire strides through a hallway while carrying a briefcase.
Outgoing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on Capitol Hill on Jan. 7. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Last week, the word on Capitol Hill was that Democrats were dialing back oversight of Donald Trump’s administration because they felt they needed to emphasize other issues in order to win important elections, especially the presidential election, in November. A week before that, some of the Republicans who helped acquit Trump at his impeachment trial endorsed his defense team’s argument that voters, not their representatives, should be the ones to decide whether the president remains in office.

This week, Trump fired acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire after reportedly becoming angry that one of Maguire’s deputies told members of Congress that Russia’s intelligence operation is working to support Trump’s reelection. According to the New York Times, the briefing in question conveyed that “rather than impersonating Americans as they did in 2016, Russian operatives are working to get Americans to repeat disinformation” and that they are “working from servers in the United States, rather than abroad, knowing that American intelligence agencies are prohibited from operating inside the country.”

Per the Washington Post, meanwhile, Trump became angry at the deputy who gave the briefing because he “erroneously believed that she had given information exclusively to Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee” and because “the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly.” The individual who will be taking over for Maguire as acting DNI, Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, is a frequent Fox News guest who has no experience in intelligence and who has previously only worked in government as a spokesman.

Well, that really puts a button on it, doesn’t it? The voters are going to get their chance to decide who the president is, but only after they’re subject to a Russian-authored propaganda campaign being covered up by the incumbent administration. (On Thursday, Trump referred to reports of renewed Russian support for his campaign as a “hoax” that is “being launched by Democrats in Congress.”)

Will the cover-up be successful? In 2016, the Obama administration decided not to share what it knew about Russian “interference” because Mitch McConnell privately objected to the possibility of doing so and Obama thought overruling him would come across as too partisan. On the other hand, a group of otherwise cautious first-term House Democrats with military and intelligence backgrounds provided crucial support for impeachment, despite similar ambient concerns about partisanship, on the grounds that corruption that threatens national security is a more urgent problem than other kinds.

But then, thanks to the discipline of every Senate Republican but Mitt Romney, the argument about national security and election integrity got dismissed on the purported grounds that it was … yes, too partisan. Which is what led to the current freeze on oversight. And now the president is denouncing an intelligence briefing delivered by his own administration as a Democratic hoax. If the Democrats don’t ultimately get boxed in by this tactic, it’ll be the first time they’ve avoided doing so. So yes, the cover-up will probably work.