U.S. President Donald Trump's national-security adviser says he has seen no intelligence indicating that Russia is attempting to help the president's reelection campaign.
The comments by Robert O'Brien on February 22 came days after multiple media outlets reported that U.S. intelligence officials briefed lawmakers that Moscow was taking covert steps to boost the campaigns of Trump and of Democratic front-runner Senator Bernie Sanders.
Trump angrily condemned the press reports about his campaign as "another misinformation" effort by Democrats in Congress.
Sanders reacted to reports of Moscow aiding his campaign by blasting President Vladimir Putin as a "thug" and telling him to “stay out” of U.S. elections.
O’Brien’s remarks were released in a transcript of an interview to be broadcast on February 23 with ABC TV's This Week with George Stephanopoulos program.
“The national-security adviser gets pretty good access to our intelligence," O'Brien said. “I haven't seen any intelligence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump reelected.”
AP quoted an intelligence source familiar with the briefing as saying that lawmakers were not told that Russia was working to aid Trump’s campaign but that some of them concluded that from what they were told.
O'Brien also denied the news reports that Trump forced out former acting national intelligence director Joseph Maguire because of anger over the briefing.
He said Maguire's time as acting director was to expire in early March and that Trump needed someone who had already been confirmed by the Senate to temporarily replace him.
Trump replaced him with current U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, who is considered a strong Trump loyalist.
“Ambassador Grenell is there for a temporary period of time,” O'Brien said, adding that Trump would soon announce someone to be rapidly confirmed by the Senate as full-time director.
Meanwhile, Sanders confirmed that he had been told by U.S. intelligence officials about a month ago that Russia appeared to be engaging in disinformation and propaganda campaigns to help his 2020 campaign.
“I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do,” the 78-year-old Vermont senator said in a statement.
“Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia,” the statement said.
With reporting by AP and Reuters