WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump pushed aside his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, because he was angry that lawmakers were briefed about Russia's plan to interfere in the 2020 election to help Trump, a former intelligence official briefed on the matter told NBC News.
NBC News had previously confirmed that the election briefing by Shelby Pierson, the DNI's election security czar, angered Trump, but had not confirmed the content of the briefing. The news was first reported by the New York Times.
The former official and another former senior intelligence official said the developments have caused serious concern among intelligence officials.
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"ODNI is nearing a meltdown," the second official said after news broke about Maguire being forced out over the Russia briefing.
A third former official previously confirmed to NBC News that Maguire, who was under consideration to be permanent DNI, will not get that job and will soon leave his post.
Principal deputy director of national intelligence Andrew Hallman is also leaving his job, the second former official said, a departure that "is very distressing to intelligence professionals."
"It is clear that the recent decisions by the President have caused a lot of consternation in the intelligence community," the first former official said. "I'm not aware of any kind of planned response, but a lot of people are concerned about the role of the Oversight Committees going forward in this situation."
This former official pointed out that Maguire was due to leave by March 12 but said that this briefing precipitated it prematurely.
Trump announced that he would name Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, to the post, but on Thursday night, officials said the president would put forward a different name within days to fill the job permanently.
Last Thursday, Pierson gave a classified briefing to the House Intelligence Committee on 2020 election security. The former official said lawmakers were told about evidence that Russia is seeking to interfere in the 2020 election to help Trump.
The next day, Trump erupted at Maguire in the Oval Office during his daily intelligence briefing, the Post and the Times reported. The Times said Trump was concerned the Democrats would use the information against him.
Trump's anger over the briefing led him to push Maguire out, the former officials told NBC News.
The episode has raised the specter that Trump is punishing intelligence officials for providing accurate intelligence to members of Congress who are cleared to receive it.
Trump's anger cost Maguire a chance to become the permanent DNI, a former official familiar with the matter said, confirming a report in The Washington Post.
The Post reported that the president "erroneously believed that she had given information exclusively to Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., the committee chairman, and that the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly, the people familiar with the matter said.
A committee official told the Post that wasn't true. The committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pierson, a veteran intelligence official, is coordinating the intelligence gathering — and response — to foreign election threats.
While the U.S. government is working to secure the 2020 election from hackers and disinformation, Trump has avoided publicly commenting or holding meetings about the subject because he believes the issue reflects badly on his 2016 victory in an election beset by Russian interference, officials have told NBC News.