A little more than a year ago, American intelligence agencies drafted a classified document reporting that the Russian government favored President Trump in the 2020 presidential election, a finding that fit with their consensus that the Kremlin tried to help him in 2016.
The director of national intelligence was asked to modify the assessment — he did not — and not long afterward, Mr. Trump declared the director was out.
Soon after the new acting director arrived, an intelligence official changed the document, softening the claim that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia wanted Mr. Trump to win, according to an article published on Saturday by The New York Times Magazine.
The investigation includes details not previously reported about the fears of officials in U.S. intelligence agencies under the Trump administration, who described struggling to brief the president without provoking his anger or losing their jobs.
Following are key takeaways from the investigation, based on the reporter Robert Draper’s conversations with 40 current and former intelligence officials, lawmakers and congressional staff.
Russia favored Trump and helped Sanders, draft says
The early draft of the classified document assembled last year, a National Intelligence Estimate, touched on a chronic sore point between intelligence officials and the White House.
Among other things, the draft concerned Russia’s efforts to influence American elections in 2020 and 2024, according to multiple officials who saw it.
A “key judgment” of the document was that in the 2020 election, Russia favored the current president. To allay any speculation that Mr. Putin’s interest in Mr. Trump had cooled, the judgment was supported by information from a highly sensitive foreign source described as “100 percent reliable” by someone who read the draft.
The intelligence used by the analysts also indicated that Russia had worked in support of Senator Bernie Sanders, then running for the Democratic nomination for president. A veteran national intelligence officer explained to his colleagues, according to notes taken by one participant in the process, that this did not reflect a genuine preference for Mr. Sanders, but instead an effort “to weaken that party and ultimately help the current U.S. president.”
An intelligence chief is out, and the draft is revised
Later, a suggestion was made to the director of national intelligence at the time, Dan Coats, that the draft be modified. Coats, who recalled the request coming from a staff member, refused. On July 28, Mr. Trump announced that Mr. Coats’s last day in office would be Aug. 15, over a month before he had expected to resign.
In September, a new version of the document was circulated with edits. It no longer clearly said that Russia favored the current president. Instead, in a summary, it said, “Russian leaders probably assess that chances to improve relations with the U.S. will diminish under a different U.S. president.”
The changes reflected a development of the Trump era that has alarmed some current and former officials, lawmakers and congressional staff members: the intelligence community’s willingness to change what it would otherwise say straightforwardly so as not to upset the president.
By firing top officials and replacing them with loyalists, said Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, “it’s had the effect of wearing the intelligence community down, making them less willing to speak truth to power.”
A second intelligence director is shown the door
On Feb. 13, Shelby Pierson, an analyst for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, testified in a classified hearing to the House Intelligence Committee that Russia preferred the current president to win in the 2020 election.
A number of Republicans objected, and Ms. Pierson’s testimony was relayed to Mr. Trump. The next day, on Feb. 14, he interrupted a routine briefing on election security, according to one of the meeting’s participants. He asked the director of national intelligence at the time, retired Vice Adm. Joseph Maguire: “Hey, Joe, I understand that you briefed Adam Schiff and that you told him that Russia prefers me. Why did you tell that to Schiff?”
Although Mr. Maguire tried to explain that it was another official, Mr. Trump continued to question him and the meeting broke up. On Feb. 19, Mr. Maguire was informed that his likely replacement should be let into his office’s headquarters the following morning.
Mr. Trump named his replacement as Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and a former United Nations ambassador’s spokesman, media consultant and Fox News commentator.
Anger and anxiety from Day 1
Mr. Trump’s speech on the first day of his presidency, in front of the C.I.A.’s Memorial Wall, a tribute to agency officers killed in service, drew intense anger for some in the agency. At the event, Mr. Trump repeated false claims about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, attacked the news media and asked why the lobby of C.I.A. headquarters had so many columns.
One agency veteran called the speech “a near desecration of the wall.”
The president’s penchant for bargaining and gossiping on his private cellphone, and for inviting billionaires into his circle, created anxiety in the intelligence agencies. Intelligence officials of at least one country, a NATO ally, were discouraged by their president from interacting with American counterparts for fear that Mr. Trump would blurt out information to Russians, one former senior intelligence official said.
Mr. Trump also stocked the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board with wealthy businesspeople who, when briefed, “would sometimes make you uncomfortable,” because at times “their questions were related to their business dealings,” one intelligence official said.
Under Mr. Grenell, fears grew that, under the pretext of downsizing, the services might be purged of people like the C.I.A. analyst who filed the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint last year.
“It seems pretty clear to me that, in the wake of the whistle-blower complaint, he’d put a bunch of political hacks in charge, so that he’d never have to worry about the truth getting out from the intelligence community,” said Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
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