Outrage on the Hill After Director of National Intelligence Cancels Congressional Election Security Briefings
John Ratcliffe, the Director of National Intelligence, has canceled all future congressional election security briefings and will instead submit “intelligence products” in writing, as outlined in a letter he sent to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on Friday.
The decision was made in order to “ensure clarity and consistency across the Office of National Intelligence’s engagements with Congress on elections,” Ratcliffe insisted to lawmakers.
“I believe this approach helps ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the information ODNI provides the Congress in support of your oversight responsibilities on elections security, foreign malign influence, and election interference is not misunderstood nor politicized,” Ratcliffe wrote. “It will also better protect our sources and methods and most sensitive intelligence from additional unauthorized disclosures or misuse.”
Ratcliffe’s announcement was swiftly condemned by House leadership.
On Saturday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) blasted the DNI’s move, arguing that the public has a right to know that foreign adversaries – Russia, China, and Iran – are once again interfering in American elections. Russia, however, remains the biggest external threat to American democratic cohesion, having significantly expanded its “active measures” over the last four years.
“This is a shocking abdication of its lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed, and a betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy,” Pelosi and Schiff said in a statement. “This intelligence belongs to the American people, not the agencies which are its custodian. And the American people have both the right and the need to know that another nation, Russia, is trying to help decide who their president should be.”
“The ODNI had requested the opportunity to brief the intelligence committees and the full U.S. House of Representatives in mid-September and has now cancelled those briefings and said it would hold no others. This is shameful and – coming only weeks before the election – demonstrates that the Trump Administration is engaged in a politicized effort to withhold election-related information from Congress and the American people at the precise moment that greater transparency and accountability is required. This keeps both the American people and the Congress in the dark, when both are in need of the information,” they said.
“Instead of transparency, the Trump Administration, including President [Donald] Trump, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, has already sought to promote a false narrative of equivalence among the interests of several nations in U.S. elections and policy. The aims and actions of Russia, China, and Iran are not the same. Only one country—Russia—is actively undertaking a range of measures of undermine the presidential election and to secure the outcome that the Kremlin sees as best serving its interests,” the leaders continued.
“We expect the Administration and Intelligence Community to keep us fully and accurately informed, and resume the briefings. If they are unwilling to, we will consider the full range of tools available to the House to compel compliance.”
Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its findings from its years-long investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign’s connections to Russia as well as its cooperation with the Kremlin’s plot to damage Democrat Hillary Clinton and hand Trump the presidency. The Senate’s investigation, led by Republicans, was vastly more revealing than Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which, while damning, was highly politicized and heavily redacted by Attorney General William Barr.
Trump, on the other hand, accused Democrats of being leakers.
“Whether it was Shifty Schiff or somebody else — they leak the information before it gets in, and what’s even worse is they leak the wrong information, and he got tired of it, so he wants to do it in a different form because you have leakers on the committee, and obviously, leakers that are doing bad things,” Trump said on Saturday. He added that it is “probably not even legal to leak, but we’ll look into that separately.”
President Trump on DNI election security briefings: "Whether it was Shifty Schiff or somebody else — they leak the information before it gets in… You have leakers on the committee." pic.twitter.com/6umZn9Zx8h
— The Hill (@thehill) August 29, 2020
Trump then repeated that Democrats were “leaking the information as brought in.” But as is customary for Trump, he offered no proof to substantiate what he claimed.