A surge in reports that the administration was proactively briefing senior government officials to prepare for an election that is certain to become contested sparked a 10 percent sell-off of US and UK stocks.
The spread of the virus was unexpected. Federal workers were supposed to have already been providing the same reports to the Trump administration. And the US National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security were meant to have been in charge of monitoring the domestic threat.
But now, many employees of the intelligence agencies believe that the senior officials were preparing for a possible Hillary Clinton victory. These include NSA director Adm. Michael Rogers, officials familiar with the proceedings said.
Mr. Rogers, who was just nominated to be national security adviser, made his headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland, the center of the conference call, according to an official familiar with the call.
“NSA and NSA staff have been raised to ‘Flu Level 4’ for additional briefings for key members of cabinet and government leaders,” tweeted Ari Fleischer, a retired White House press secretary.
No official knew the origin of the virus. The White House claims a large majority of government employees were unaffected.
Not so, says the intelligence employees. And, at best, many feared that such a virus might indicate Kremlin interference. “DHS and NSA kept looking at the data and it showed there wasn’t any,” said a senior intelligence worker, who said he read everything that came out of the Russians’ private hotline.
Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist in the White House, was denied access to the intelligence database, and when he asked to be “protected” from “fueled” speculation by senior officials, NSA deputy director Robert Carlin refused, according to an official familiar with the call.
“These guys are dying on the inside and Trump isn’t even processing the threat of a potential Bush victory,” the official said.
Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has been privy to this information, was the one who convinced Donald Trump Jr. to meet with a Russian lawyer, after the company promised to give him access to damaging information about Mrs. Clinton.
On the call, the senior officials gave the optimistic assessment that the Trump victory was around the corner.
“Unprecedented in modern history,” one government official said. “Our intelligence was saying that the DHS and NSA did not have specific information that would cause them to issue a warning. There was no ‘hot intel’ that would have caused us to act.”
Officials involved say the White House did not take the security breaches seriously. The worry was that Mr. Trump Jr. could not have personally known of the illegal plot and was still a key beneficiary of Russia’s effort to smear Mrs. Clinton.