WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday accused Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, of leaking information about Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2020 election, dismissed the intelligence as “exaggerated,” and refused to acknowledge that Moscow was behind similar efforts in 2016.
The president made the comments during a news conference at the end of his two-day visit in India. Before he took the first question from a reporter, Trump said that he did not plan on saying anything controversial.
“Schiff leaked it, in my opinion — and he shouldn’t be leaking things like that,” Trump said without evidence, referring to the California Democrat. The president was responding to a question about recent intelligence briefings about Russia’s meddling in the 2020 election.
“And if they don’t stop it, I can’t imagine that people are not going to go after them and find out what’s happening,” Trump said, reviving his accusation that the committee had been a source of leaks. Last week the president also called for an investigation into Schiff, to which Schiff responded: “Your false claims fool no one.”
Trump’s dismissals of the 2020 assessment showed his continuing mistrust in his own intelligence officials during another election campaign marred by Russia’s interference.
The brush off came after intelligence officials briefed members of the intelligence committee about the persistence of Russia’s efforts to help Trump get reelected in 2020, including new information about the Kremlin’s efforts to influence the Democratic primaries to aid Senator Bernie Sanders.
Trump was particularly bothered that intelligence officials would share this information with Democrats, especially Schiff, who led the Trump impeachment inquiries, even though all members of the intelligence committee are entitled to these briefings as part of their oversight role.
Trump privately complained that Democrats would “weaponize” the information. A day after the lawmakers’ briefing, Trump lashed out at Joseph Maguire, his outgoing director of national intelligence.
A few days later, Trump named a loyalist without intelligence experience, Richard Grenell, to be director of national intelligence until a permanent replacement could be found. Most recently, Grenell was the US ambassador to Germany, where he had a polarizing reputation.
The president’s deflection Tuesday of questions from reporters about the threat from Russia and the ominous remark about “going to go after” lawmakers were extraordinary, not only because of the potential impact on American democracy, but also because he pledged not to say anything that could cause controversy, as he had previously done at the end of other foreign trips.
“I don’t want to blow the two days plus two days of travel on one answer — one little answer,” Trump told reporters before he took questions.
The news media, he said, would take something small and “blow it out, and that would be the end of the trip. They won’t even talk about the trip.”
Minutes later, he accused Schiff of leaking intelligence.