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Grenell brings balance to candidate briefings

Given what we know now about how the Obama administration spied on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, it’s not surprising that intelligence was withheld from Team Trump — even as Hillary Clinton was briefed fully on the threats facing the country.

President Trump’s top intelligence official, however, says that for 2020, all things will be equal.

According to Tuesday’s Washington Times, acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, who holds the job as Republican U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas awaits final Senate confirmation for the post, has decided that one official within his office will brief both the Trump and Biden campaigns. Under Obama in 2016, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the intel agencies, through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, gave individual briefings to the candidates. The current format relegates the FBI and DHS to supporting roles.

“This ensures you have uniformity for both sides,” an official in Grenell’s office told the Times.

It’s unclear whether Ratcliffe will stick with Grenell’s plan, which puts Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center under Grenell, in charge of the briefings.

Russian interference in the 2020 race already has been alleged. Back in February, just a week before the pivotal South Carolina Democratic primary that resurrected Joe Biden’s flailing campaign, The Washington Post offered a vague report that U.S. officials believed Moscow was working to help Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was then leading the race.     

Undoubtedly, as the presidential race moves forward, Democrats will try to raise the specter of Russian interference in the election, which was vastly overblown, as was learned during the investigations into the allegations that Trump colluded with the Kremlin in 2016, charges that have been revealed as bogus.

The Times, however, noted that three months ago U.S. intelligence officials maintained the candidates — and the voters — needed to be alert to more than the output of  Russian troll farms.

“This is not a Russia-only problem,” analysts reported in the briefing to the House Intelligence Committee. “China, Iran, other countries like North Korea and Cuba, and non-state actors all have the opportunity, means and potential motive to interfere in the 2020 elections as a way to achieve their goals. Some are trying to influence the public debate largely on social media in order to stoke discord in the United States, with the hope of swaying U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, shift U.S. policies, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process.”

We may not be able to wholly stop the Kremlin or anyone else from meddling. But Grenell’s revamped briefing format guarantees that both candidates will be operating on a level playing field and with the same information.   

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