As Russia targets US elections, Trump admin delays intel report

It'd be nice to give Trump administration officials the benefit of the doubt, but these folks don't make it easy.
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President Donald Trump speaks to members of the border patrol as Acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf looks on in Yuma, Ariz., on Aug. 18, 2020.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

A couple of months ago, the Department of Homeland Security prepared an intelligence report on foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election, which noted, among other things, Russia going after Joe Biden's health and mental acuity. The analysis would ordinarily be distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement partners.

But it wasn't.

The Department of Homeland Security delayed distribution of an intelligence report describing election interference by foreign powers seeking to raise doubts about the health of the presidential candidates, a spokesman told NBC News.

NBC News spoke to a DHS spokesperson who said the report, prepared by the cabinet agency's Office of Intelligence and Analysis, was held up because it "lacked the necessary context and evidence."

And perhaps that's true. On the other hand, ABC News, which was first to break this story, had a related report noting that the draft intelligence bulletin was submitted to the department's legislative and public affairs office for review, and an hour later, a senior DHS official intervened, directing officials to acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf.

Wolf, a close ally to the president, never signed off on the bulletin's release.

The benign interpretation of events is that the Department of Homeland Security withheld incomplete information the agency lacked confidence in. The less benign interpretation is that political appointees, principally concerned with Donald Trump's re-election strategy, and eager to politicize U.S. intelligence, withheld information about the nature of Russian interference in our elections.

The ABC News report added, "According to the draft bulletin, analysts determined with 'high confidence' that 'Russian malign influence actors are likely to continue denigrating presidential candidates through allegations of poor mental or physical health to influence the outcome of the 2020 election.'"

Elizabeth Neumann, a Trump-appointed official who served as the DHS assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy, told the network, "High confidence means what it sounds like -- that they are highly confident that their assessment is accurate and they don’t use that language very often."

And yet, the assessment was withheld.

All of this, of course, comes within a larger context. For example, it was just a few weeks ago when William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, released a statement documenting the fact that Kremlin-linked operatives are actively involved -- again -- in an effort to keep Trump in power.

The New York Times added yesterday that Facebook and Twitter have uncovered fresh evidence that the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency is once again "using a network of fake accounts and a website set up to look like a left-wing news site" as part of a scheme to help Trump remain in the White House.

Meanwhile, Team Trump and its allies are downplaying Moscow's efforts, choosing instead to argue that it's actually China that's interfering in our elections on Biden's behalf. Politico reported yesterday, however, that the evidence doesn't bolster the arguments, and Republicans are distorting the U.S. intelligence.

And it's against this backdrop that Trump's Office of the Director of National Intelligence is curtailing briefings on foreign election interference to Congress for the first time.

It'd be nice to give Trump administration officials the benefit of the doubt, but these folks don't make it easy.