Washington (CNN)The US intelligence community’s top election security official appears to have overstated the intelligence community’s formal assessment of Russian interference in the 2020 election, omitting important nuance during a briefing with lawmakers earlier this month, three national security officials told CNN.
The official, Shelby Pierson, told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election with the goal of helping President Donald Trump get reelected.
The US intelligence community has assessed that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election and has separately assessed that Russia views Trump as a leader they can work with. But the US does not have evidence that Russia’s interference this cycle is aimed at reelecting Trump, the officials said.
“The intelligence doesn’t say that,” one senior national security official told CNN. “A more reasonable interpretation of the intelligence is not that they have a preference, it’s a step short of that. It’s more that they understand the President is someone they can work with, he’s a dealmaker.”
Pierson’s characterization of Russian interference led to pointed questions from lawmakers, which officials said caused Pierson to overstep and assert that Russia has a preference for Trump to be reelected.
One intelligence official said that Pierson’s characterization of the intelligence was “misleading” and a national security official said Pierson failed to provide the “nuance” needed to accurately convey the US intelligence conclusions.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where Pierson is a senior official, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Trump has been periodically briefed on Russian interference in the 2020 election, but was upset when he learned of Pierson’s characterization of the intelligence in part because intelligence officials had not characterized the interference as explicitly pro-Trump. One national security official said Russia’s only clear aim, as of now, is to sow discord in the United States.
Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the aim of helping Trump get elected and damaging then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the intelligence community concluded, writing in its post-election assessment that “Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” And while it is not inconceivable that Russia is once again looking to boost Trump’s candidacy, three national security officials said the US intelligence community does not yet have the evidence to make that assessment.