President Trump’s national security adviser has expressed bewilderment at the idea of Russia wanting to boost Trump in the 2020 election—apparently forgetting entirely about the Kremlin’s effort to sway the vote in 2016 and the president’s penchant for echoing Russian propaganda.
Instead, he dredged up a decades-old trip that Bernie Sanders took to Moscow.
“Well, there are these reports that they want Bernie Sanders to get elected president,” Robert O’Brien told ABC News’ This Week, according to a transcript. “That's no surprise. He honeymooned in Moscow.”
“I haven't seen any intelligence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump reelected,” O’Brien told George Stephanopoulos in the interview set to air Sunday. He said reports of an intelligence briefing where officials were told the Kremlin is trying to give Trump a helping hand in 2020 were a “non-story” and that he’d heard “from the briefers that that’s not what they intended the story to be.”
“So, look, who knows what happened over at the House and the Intelligence Committee, but I haven't seen any evidence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump reelected,” he said.
O’Brien declined to respond directly when Stephanopoulos reminded him of recent reports that Russia tried to hack the Ukrainian gas company where Trump and his allies have claimed former vice president Joe Biden—the president’s potential opponent in the 2020 race—abused his power to cover up corruption implicating his son.
“Well, look, I'm not going to get into specific intelligence issues, but—with respect to Ukraine,” O’Brien said, going on to note that the “Russians and the Chinese and others like to sow disruption” in American politics.
As for Trump, O’Brien said he’d seen “zero intelligence” that Moscow has been trying to help him, insisting that it doesn’t “make any sense” that they would.
“Why would Russia want the president who has rebuilt the American military, who has given the Ukrainians lethal arms, javelin missiles and has sanctioned the Russians far more than any president in recent history, why would they want him reelected? I mean, that just doesn’t make common sense,” he said.
While distancing Trump from Russia, O’Brien made no mention of the 2016 election, after which more than a dozen Russian nationals and companies were indicted for a social-media effort to sway the vote towards Trump. Trump himself has continued to defy the U.S. intelligence community and cast doubt on Russia’s involvement in 2016 election interference, choosing instead to chase Kremlin-peddled conspiracy theories that Ukraine was actually to blame for election meddling.
O’Brien’s remarks come after reports surfaced this week that officials had been briefed on Russia continuing to try and help Trump by interfering in the 2020 election. One day after reports on that briefing broke, The Washington Post reported that Sanders’ campaign had also been warned about Russia trying to aid his presidential campaign. Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill were also said to be notified of Russia’s efforts to help the Democratic frontrunner.
The Sanders campaign has since tried to point the finger at the administration for the reports on the Russia briefing, specifically at Trump’s new acting intelligence chief, Richard Grenell.
Grenell, a Trump loyalist and the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, was tapped to take over the position after Trump reportedly blew up at then-Acting Director of Intelligence Joseph Maguire for allowing the briefing where an official said Russia was once again trying to help his campaign.