News that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would no longer continue in-person briefings on election security issues but would provide written updates instead raised alarms that the move was just one more underhanded move by Donald Trump to win the U.S. election.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) explained why the move is troubling on CNN’s State of the Union (below): “Because you can make a written report, and you can state things in a written report that are not correct, and you can’t be subject to questioning about it. … When you can hide behind documents or withhold documents, and not have to answer questions about it, it lets you conceal the truth.”
CNN reports: “Still, the abrupt announcement is a change that runs counter to the pledge of transparency and regular briefings on election threats by the intelligence community. It also comes after the top intelligence official on election security issued a statement earlier this month saying China, Russia and Iran are seeking to interfere in the 2020 US election, a warning that prompted some backlash from Democrats on Capitol Hill who have continued to push for the public release of more information about the nature of those efforts.”
Some reactions on Twitter:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schiff sent off a sternly worded letter.
Wrote the lawmakers: “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. 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.”
But some folks want them to take action:
U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Acting Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) expressed alarm at the changes but blamed them on members of Congress leaking the information and appeared to give Ratcliffe a pass.
Said Rubio in a statement, in part: “Congressional oversight of intelligence activities now faces a historic crisis. … Divulging access to classified information in order to employ it as a political weapon is not only an abuse, it is a serious federal crime with potentially severe consequences on our national security. This situation we now face is due, in no small part, to the willingness of some to commit federal crimes for the purpose of advancing their electoral aims. Yet, this grotesque criminal misconduct does not release the intelligence community from fulfilling its legal requirements to respond to Congressional oversight committees and to keep members of Congress fully informed of relevant information on a timely basis. I have spoken to the Director Radcliffe who stated unequivocally that he will continue to fulfill these obligations. In particular, he made explicitly clear that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will continue receiving briefings on all oversight topics, including election matters.”
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe appeared on FOX News Sunday to defend the move:
Said Ratcliffe to FOX News host Maria Bartiromo on Sunday: “Within minutes of one of those briefings ending, a number of members of Congress went to a number of different outlets and leaked classified information for political purposes. To create a narrative that simply isn’t true, that somehow Russia is a greater national security threat than China. I don’t mean to minimize Russia. They are a serious national security threat, but day in, day out, the threats that we face from China are significantly greater. Anyone who says otherwise is just politicizing intelligence for their own narrative.”
Schiff responded on CNN’s State of the Union: “What the administration is saying makes no sense, in terms of their refusal to brief Congress on Russian interference designed to help the Trump campaign. They’re going to put it in writing now, instead of give us an oral briefing. That doesn’t make any sense, unless the goal is not to allow members of Congress, the representatives of the American people, to ask questions, to point out the false equivalence that the administration is trying to promulgate that somehow Russian interference in our election, Russian active measures to try to decide our election to help Donald Trump is no different than other countries are doing. They don’t want those questions answered. They don’t want that information going to the public. This is what the president is after. After all, Donald Trump fired Director Maguire for briefing Congress on the fact that Russia was trying to help his campaign again.”
Asked if he would subpoena intelligence officials to appear in a hearing before the election, Schiff replied: “That is certainly one of the tools that we may use. I can’t speak for what decision ultimately we will make. That’s a decision that will have to go to the speaker. But we will compel the intelligence community to give Congress the information that we need. We will compel the intelligence community also to speak plainly to the American people, because, Dana, this information, this intelligence, paid for by taxpayers, doesn’t belong to Donald Trump. It doesn’t belong to the intelligence agencies. It belongs to the American people.”