The US director of national intelligence has cancelled in-person election security briefings for Congress, prompting outraged Democrats to accuse the Trump administration of trying to conceal Russian interference in November’s election.
John Ratcliffe informed Congressional leaders on Saturday that he would no longer brief them in person on foreign efforts to interfere in the forthcoming election. In future, congress would be informed of intelligence threats in writing, he said.
“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,” said Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, and Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee, who spearheaded last year’s impeachment probe, in a joint 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.”
In his letter to Congressional leaders, Mr Ratcliffe wrote that the measure was needed to prevent the ODNI’s briefings from being “misunderstood or politicised.”
“It will also better protect our sources and methods and most sensitive intelligence from additional unauthorised disclosures or misuse,” the letter said.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, said Mr Ratcliffe had “made clear he’s in the job only to protect Trump from democracy, not democracy from Trump”.
“Our intelligence officials have said there’s an active, ongoing assault on our democratic process from Russia. President Trump is simply using John Ratcliffe to hide the ugly truth from the American people — that the president is again receiving the help of the Kremlin.”
Earlier this month, the US intelligence community warned that China, Russia and Iran were all seeking to influence November’s presidential election, with Kremlin-linked actors working to boost Mr Trump and Tehran and Beijing seeking to undermine the president’s chances.
Special counsel Robert Mueller last year concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election. A bipartisan investigation published earlier this month by a Senate committee found Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager, passed information during the 2016 US presidential campaign to a Russian intelligence officer who worked for him.
Amy Klobuchar, the most-senior Democrat on the Senate rules committee, which oversees federal elections, said on Saturday: “The very same month that the Director of National Intelligence issued a warning that foreign adversaries are currently working to interfere in our elections, he cancelled all election security briefings for Congress.”
“Federal law requires the intelligence community to keep Congress informed, and there must be an immediate reversal of this decision.”
When asked about the decision during a trip to survey hurricane damage in Louisiana on Saturday, Mr Trump slammed Mr Schiff, who he called “shifty Schiff”, saying: “The last time they gave briefings, they went out and talked to the press.”
Mr Ratcliffe was previously a Republican congressman from Texas and a vocal supporter of Mr Trump. The US president nominated the congressman to be director of national intelligence earlier this year, and his appointment was confirmed by the Senate in May, along party lines.
In his confirmation hearing, Mr Ratcliffe told senators that he would “speak truth to power” and ensure intelligence was “collected, analysed and reported without bias, prejudice or political influence”.