National security adviser Robert O'Brien disputes Russian meddling to favor Trump's reelection

Robert O'Brien directly contradicted intelligence official findings.

February 23, 2020, 9:27 AM

White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien is denying new U.S. intelligence reports that Russian actors are interfering to help President Donald Trump win a second term, but he admitted he has not looked at or sought out materials surrounding those reports.

"I haven't seen any intelligence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump reelected," O'Brien told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Saturday, saying it amounted to "a non-story."

The interview came on the heels of recent reports that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told lawmakers that Russia is meddling in the 2020 race, with a preference for the Trump campaign. O'Brien characterized the reporting on the classified briefing as "leaks."

"I think it's the same old story we've heard before," O'Brien said, adding, "Our message to the Russians is stay out of the U.S. elections. We've been very tough on Russia and we've been great on election security."

Trump mocked reports on the intelligence community's findings during a Friday campaign rally in Las Vegas, characterizing them as a Democratic Party effort to "start a rumor."

"It's disinformation. That's the only thing they're good at, they're not good at anything else. They get nothing done. Do-nothing Democrats," he told a crowd of supporters.

In this Jan. 8, 2020, file photo, national security adviser Robert O'Brien, listens as President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the White House in Washington.
Alex Brandon/AP, File

Stephanopoulos asked O'Brien about that characterization, and why O'Brien remained unsure of what was true regarding the new ODNI intelligence on Russia.

"Don't you have a responsibility as national security adviser to find out?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"You're basing your assumptions, George, on leaks that came out of a House Intelligence Committee hearing," O'Brien said, reiterating, "I haven't seen the intel, and I haven't seen that analysis."

"Have you asked for it?" Stephanopoulos pressed.

"I want to get whatever analysis they've got, and I want to make sure that the analysis is solid. From what I've heard -- again -- this is only what I've seen in the press, it doesn't make any sense," O'Brien said, citing what he said are conflicting interests between current U.S. foreign policy and Russia's goals.

"But look," O'Brien concluded, "if there's someone from the intel community that has something different, I'd be happy to take a look at it. I just haven't seen it."

Since it was first revealed that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly warned about ongoing threats by Russia to interfere in American elections, including the in 2020 presidential race.

The Washington Post also reported that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has been briefed by U.S. officials about Russian efforts to help his Democratic primary campaign. While O'Brien called the reports about Russia's interference in favor of the Sanders "no surprise," he disagreed the same could be true for the Trump campaign.

FILE PHOTO: National Security advisor Ambassador Robert OBrien listens to President Donald Trump speaking about Syria in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, Oct. 23, 2019.
File-Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

O'Brien's pushback and Trump's blanket denial come as the president is acting to reshape the intelligence community, long the target of his ire. Current ambassador to Germany, and Trump loyalist, Richard Grenell has been appointed to temporarily fill the position of director of national intelligence after the president dismissed acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire earlier this week.

The president is searching for a permanent director of national Intelligence, and claimed on Friday to have "four great candidates."

O'Brien also denied reports that Trump dismissed Maguire because he was enraged and felt the briefing to the House Intelligence Committee was providing political ammunition to Democrats.

"I know again that that's not true," O'Brien said about the meeting when Maguire stepped down. "I was in that meeting, and the president was not angry with Joe Maguire."

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