National security adviser Robert O'Brien denies intel chief was pushed out

National security adviser Robert O'Brien disputes claims Joseph Maguire pushed out of DNI

Washington — Robert O'Brien, the White House national security adviser, says former Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was not pushed out of office, despite reports that President Trump was furious over a congressional briefing about foreign election interference.

"Joe Maguire was always planning on leaving within the next couple of weeks. So, you know, he did a great job. I had a really great relationship with him. And I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, as does the president," O'Brien said on "Face the Nation."

The Washington Post first reported that Mr. Trump had quarreled with Maguire after intelligence officials briefed lawmakers on Russian interference in the upcoming 2020 election. Officials told the House Intelligence Committee that one goal of Russia's efforts is to help Mr. Trump win reelection, according to a source who attended the meeting. The source said the president's allies "questioned the validity of the information" during the meeting.

O'Brien said he has seen no intelligence showing Russia has a preference for Mr. Trump.

"There's no briefing that I've received, that the president has received, that says that President Putin is doing anything to try and influence the elections in favor of President Trump," he said. "We just haven't seen that intelligence. If it's out there, I haven't seen it. I'd be surprised if I haven't seen it. The leaders of the [intelligence community] have not seen it. So I, again, I don't know where this is coming from."

Mr. Trump announced Wednesday that Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany, would replace Maguire as acting intelligence director, overseeing the nation's intelligence agencies. A congressional source told CBS News last week that "there is absolutely no connection to replacing Maguire and the briefing — Maguire was on the way out anyway." O'Brien echoed that assertion.

"Joe Maguire wasn't pushed out. Joe Maguire's term — he was an acting. He was serving under the Vacancy Act. He was acting, as his term, I believe, was ending March 11 or March 12, like two weeks from now," O'Brien explained. "So we're looking for a nominee that can be a terrific candidate who can be nominated for this position."

Asked again about Russia's interference in U.S. elections, O'Brien said the FBI has told him that Russia would prefer Senator Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic nominee.

"What I've heard is that Russia would like Bernie Sanders to win the Democrat nomination," he said. "They'd probably like him to be president, understandably, because he wants to spend money on social programs and probably would have to take it out of the military, so that would make sense."

O'Brien was also complimentary of Grenell's background despite a perceived lack of experience in the intelligence community. He added that Grenell would be in the position on a "temporary basis."

"He does have a great intelligence background. He was a consumer of intelligence for 10 years, both as a senior official at the U.S. U.N. in New York and as our ambassador to Germany. The first director of DNI was Ambassador [John] Negroponte, who had also been the ambassador to Germany and had served at the U.N. like Ambassador Grenell," he said. "As a consumer of intelligence, I think he's in a great place to do that job."

On a different topic, O'Brien said the United States is "hopeful" about talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but suggested the president would be willing to pause the withdrawal of U.S. troops should the Tablian fail to live up to its promises to stem violence. 

"We're hopeful that we can get to a place where the Afghans can talk with each other and negotiate some sort of resolution, a political resolution of the conflict," said O'Brien. "If the Taliban does not live up to their agreement on the reduction of violence plan, then we'll take a very careful look at it. And I think it'd be unlikely that we'd sign a peace treaty, but we're not going to reduce troops to a level below what is necessary to protect American interests and our partners in Afghanistan. I can assure you of that."

The U.S. and the Taliban are set to sign a historic agreement aimed at ending America's longest war amid a week-long partial truce across the country.

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    Emily Tillett is the digital producer at "Face the Nation"