Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and CIA Director John Brennan (C) take their seats to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States" on Capitol Hill in Washington March 12, 2013.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Report: Trump was told of Putin’s role in election attack in Jan. 2017

NBC News’ First Read team this morning highlighted a provocative new report from the New York Times about an intelligence briefing Donald Trump received in early 2017, shortly before his inauguration.

Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.

The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.

According to the report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, Trump met on Jan. 6, 2017, at Trump Tower with then-CIA Director John Brennan, then-DNI James Clapper, and Adm. Michael Rogers, the then-director of the National Security Agency.

At the briefing, the intelligence chiefs reportedly told the Republican president-elect, among other things, about the evidence pointing to Vladimir Putin’s direct role in Russia’s election interference. Their presentation, according to the Times, included a reference to a highly-sensitive piece of information: the United States had learned from human sources about Putin’s role, suggesting American intelligence had come directly from someone close to the Russian president.

We now know, of course, that Trump chose not to believe what he learned from that briefing, and for months – including this week – the American president continued to suggest he believed Putin’s denials.

So, here’s my question: why did this sensitive information suddenly leak now, 18 months after that Trump Tower briefing?

I don’t have any insights into how long the New York Times worked on this story, and it’s possible the revelations have nothing to do with the president’s disastrous press conference with Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

But it’s also possible that the intelligence community, which has every reason to be furious with Trump, has decided to make things a little more difficult for the president who rejected their work – while standing on foreign soil alongside the authoritarian leader who attacked the United States.

As Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum put it overnight, “The American intelligence community has been on edge over Trump practically from the start. But after Helsinki their hair must be on fire. This is basically a declaration of war against Trump, a public accusation that he’s known all along Putin ordered the election interference. One way or another, this is not going to end well.”

Donald Trump, Intelligence and Russia

Report: Trump was told of Putin's role in election attack in Jan. 2017