U.S. officials brief Congress on election security

Olivia Gazis

Top law enforcement and intelligence community officials briefed members of Congress on election security in a pair of panels Tuesday afternoon, telling lawmakers they had "nothing to support" the notion that Russian President Vladimir Putin favored one candidate or another or had ordered actions on any given candidate's behalf. They said the Russian government's objective was to sow discord in U.S. political processes, sources said. 

Three sources familiar with Tuesday's briefing said there were inconsistencies between the election security assessment delivered Tuesday and the one given to the House Intelligence Committee last month.

It appeared to two sources familiar with both February's and Tuesday's briefings that the assessment delivered Tuesday was crafted to avoid saying the Russian government had established a preference for Mr. Trump, a conclusion that had been expressed by representatives from multiple intelligence agencies before that panel in February. 

Lawmakers were also briefed last month on Russia's efforts to boost Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders' campaign

Separately, three sources also said the intelligence community has not yet furnished intelligence that members of both parties had requested in the February closed-door session that supported the assessment that the Russian government had developed a preference for President Trump. 

Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, was not among the officials briefing members of the House and Senate. President Trump made the controversial decision to tap Grenell as acting DNI last month. Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, has virtually no national intelligence experience.

Members heard from FBI Director Christopher Wray, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs, and Assistant Attorney General John Demers, among other officials. Instead of Grenell, Bill Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, represented the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

An ODNI spokesperson said that the FBI and DHS are in charge of securing the U.S. elections, and the intelligence community was participating in the briefings "in support of that mission." The intelligence community's efforts are focused on "detecting and countering foreign election-related threats," the spokesperson said. 

Shelby Pierson, the election security threats executive at ODNI, also did not appear at the briefing. Pierson's position at ODNI appeared to be in jeopardy after the president learned she had delivered a February 13 assessment on, among other things, Russian election interference before lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee. The assessment, which was based on intelligence collected by multiple agencies, indicated that Russia had established a preference for Mr. Trump, multiple sources familiar with the briefing told CBS News. 

The president was infuriated that Democrats on the committee, including Chairman Adam Schiff, who served as lead House manager during last month's impeachment proceedings, were briefed on information that Mr. Trump feared could be used as a political weapon against him. He was informed of the briefing by House Republicans, though it is not clear how the substance of the briefing was characterized.

After learning of the briefing, Mr. Trump summoned Joseph Maguire, who had been serving as acting director since August, to explain why it had taken place. Days later, the president named Grenell to the role, and Maguire resigned from government. Administration sources have contended that Maguire's ouster was unrelated to the president's displeasure with the House briefing.

However, Pierson said in February that she would not be dismissed from her position and that she had the support of Grenell.

"Ambassador Grenell has not asked me to leave," Pierson said. "In fact, he has encouraged and affirmed his support for my position here in the organization. I have not asked to depart nor discussed resignation in any way."

Grace Segers contributed to this report.

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