President Donald Trump apparently was set to appoint Utah Rep. Chris Stewart as his new director of national intelligence. Then someone told him how Stewart had called him “our Mussolini” back in 2016 — and the deal was off.
That’s according to a Bloomberg News story about tensions between Trump and intelligence agencies that told Congress that Russia is continuing to interfere with U.S. elections.
“Trump was close to nominating Representative Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican, as director of national intelligence, according to two people familiar with the deliberations," the story says. "But that idea was scrapped when Trump learned of a 2016 video clip in which Stewart said ‘Donald Trump does not represent Republican ideals, he is our Mussolini.’”
That, of course, is a reference to Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator who led Italy before and during World War II.
[Read more: Chris Stewart: Moscow has ‘no reason’ to support Trump in 2020]
Stewart made those comments to University of Utah students in 2016 at a time when he was backing Marco Rubio for president. Two years later he said he was joking.
In 2018 after telling CNN, “I love this president” referring to Trump, Stewart said he was jesting in making that remark and the earlier Mussolini comment. “Both of them were tongue-in-cheek,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "Obviously I’m not declaring my love for the president.”
Like many elected Republicans, Stewart has embraced the president and he’s now serving as a co-chairman of Trump’s 2020 reelection effort in Utah. Stewart was a loyal defender of the president throughout the impeachment proceedings.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that Stewart was among Republican who challenged intelligence officers’ conclusion in closed-door briefings that Russia was supporting the president.
“Stewart insisted that Trump has aggressively confronted Moscow, providing antitank weapons to Ukraine for its war against Russia-backed separatists and strengthening the NATO alliance with new resources, according to two people briefed on the meeting,” it said.
The newspaper added that Stewart declined to discuss the briefing, but said, “I’d challenge anyone to give me a real-world argument where Putin would rather have President Trump and not Bernie Sanders.”
The New York Times also had earlier reported that Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, had been pushing Stewart for the position, which would have put him in charge of 17 intelligence agencies.
Stewart’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday about the Bloomberg story.