National security adviser Robert O'Brien said reports of interference were...

National security adviser Robert O'Brien said reports of interference were based on leaks.  Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, dismissed reports Sunday that intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that Russia is again looking to interfere in the U.S. presidential election with the aim of boosting Trump’s reelection bid.

O’Brien, in appearances on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and ABC’s “This Week,” said he had not “received” any intelligence that the Kremlin’s election meddling efforts were meant to aid Trump, but also acknowledged that he had not sought out such information.

“There's no briefing that I've received, that the president has received, that says that President [Vladimir] Putin is doing anything to try and influence the elections in favor of President Trump,” O’Brien told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan. “We just haven't seen that intelligence. If it's out there, I haven't seen it.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller's 22-month investigation into Russian election interference found that Russian operatives "interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion." Adding to Mueller's findings, intelligence officials and FBI Director Chris Wray, in public hearings before lawmakers, have asserted that Russia will look to repeat its efforts in the upcoming presidential election.

The White House in the past week has stepped up its pushback of claims that Russia is trying to aid Trump following reports by The Washington Post and The New York Times indicating that a senior intelligence official told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing last month that Trump was Russia's preferred candidate.

Trump on Twitter called reports that Russia’s election meddling was intended to help his candidacy “a hoax” and accused House Democrats of launching “another misinformation campaign."

This past week Trump replaced Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph McGuire, with a longtime loyalist, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grennell, reportedly because Trump was angry about the claim made at the House briefing indicating that Russia sought to aid his reelection.

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, rejected reports that McGuire's removal was retaliatory.

“The president’s frustration was that he wasn’t briefed before they were briefed,” Short told NBC's "Meet the Press." “So you had midlevel people going up into a very partisan environment that’s supposed to be behind closed doors. ... The president’s concern was exactly to say, ‘Look, if you do that, they’re going to say that the Russians are trying to help Donald Trump,’ which is exactly what the leak said.”

O’Brien, appearing on ABC’s “This Week” said all the reports surrounding Russia’s preference for Trump were based on “leaks” that came out of the Democrat-controlled House Intelligence Committee, and he had not viewed any information that supported the underlying claims made at the meeting.

Pressed by the show’s host, George Stephanopoulos, to state whether he had a “responsibility as national security adviser to find out” directly from intelligence officials about the information that was offered at the House meeting, O’Brien reiterated, “I haven’t seen the intel, and I haven't seen that analysis."

"Have you asked for it?" Stephanopoulos said.

O’Brien responded: "I want to get whatever analysis they've got, and I want to make sure that the analysis is solid.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaking to reporters on Friday, said that he was briefed last month by intelligence officials that the Kremlin was also looking to boost his Democratic primary bid. He immediately denounced Russia’s interference.

“Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend,” Sanders said. “Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election."

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” he was “worried” by the Trump administration’s “politicization of intelligence.”

“The new acting head of intelligence has no background in intel. He is a Trump loyalist,” Murphy said. “I think we all worry about this administration controlling massive amounts of intelligence, massive amounts of classified information, and leaking it out to the press when it advantages them.”

Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House on Sunday before departing to India on a business trip, said he has “not been briefed” about reports that Russia was also looking to propel Sanders’ candidacy. Without offering evidence, he accused House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of leaking the information to the media.

“Nobody told me about it. They leaked it,” Trump said.

Schiff (D-Calif.) responded to Trump on Twitter saying: “Nice deflection, Mr. President. But your false claims fool no one.”

“The only thing Americans despise more than foreign actors trying to affect the vote is a president unwilling to do anything to stop it,” Schiff wrote. “Americans decide American elections.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking to reporters in Manhattan on Sunday, urged Senate Republicans to move forward on an election security bill.

"Any Russian interference is outrageous," Schumer said. "If we lose faith in our elections that a foreign power controls them rather than the American voter, that is the beginning of the end for this country."

With Michael O'Keeffe

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