DNI Refusing to Brief Congress on Election Security

Yet more flouting of the rule of law by the Trump administration.

CNN (“Top intelligence office informs congressional committees it’ll no longer brief in-person on election security“):

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has informed the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence that it’ll no longer be briefing in-person on election security issues, according to letters obtained by CNN. Instead, ODNI will primarily provide written updates to the congressional panels, a senior administration official said.

The official added that other agencies supporting election security, including the Department of Justice, Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, intend to continue briefing Congress.

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.US officials charged with protecting the 2020 election also said last week that they have “no information or intelligence” foreign countries, including Russia, are attempting to undermine any part of the mail-in voting process, contradicting President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly pushed false claims that foreign adversaries are targeting mail ballots as part of a “rigged” presidential race.

Specifically, a senior intelligence official discounted the possibility of foreign actors mass producing fake ballots to interfere in the November elections, again breaking with Trump who has continued to insist that mail-in voting poses a significant threat to election security.”We have no information or intelligence that any nation state threat actor is engaging in activity … to undermine any part of the mail-in vote or ballots,” the official told reporters on Wednesday.

Trump said Saturday that Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe “got tired of” information leaking “so, he wants to do it in a different form.”

POLITICO (“Dems outraged as Trump administration scales back election security briefings“) adds:

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is scaling back its election security briefings to Congress, according to two sources familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by POLITICO.

ODNI told the House and Senate intelligence committees that it will still provide written briefings, but that they should not expect verbal, in-person briefings on the topic, according to a congressional official and letters dated Aug. 28 that Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe sent to top members of Congress. Ratcliffe indicated in those letters that leaks from Congress were the reason for ending in-person briefings.

The move has enraged congressional Democrats, who have long charged the Trump administration with downplaying threats to U.S. elections from foreign actors, especially Russia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement that ODNI canceled separate briefings that had been scheduled for September before the intelligence committees and all members of Congress.

“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,” Schiff and Pelosi said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, acting chair of the Senate intelligence committee, and Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s vice chairman, released separate statements on the administration’s decision, with Rubio excoriating those who leak classified information while urging Ratcliffe to “continue to fulfill” his obligations to fully brief Congress, and Warner casting the decision as “outrageous” and “an unprecedented attempt to politicize” the issue.

[…]

ODNI officials were particularly angry about a leak from an all-House classified briefing led by top counterintelligence official Bill Evanina late last month, where Pelosi accused him of keeping Americans in the dark about the details of Russia’s continued interference in the 2020 campaign.

Evanina ultimately acknowledged in that briefing that Russia is again trying to boost President Donald Trump’s reelection and denigrate his opponent, Joe Biden. In a statement at the time, an ODNI official said Evanina was “incredibly disappointed in the inability of some to protect classified information they are legally obligated to safeguard and instead attempt to use it for partisan gain.”

First off, the DNI is a Senate-confirmed government officer. He has no right to dictate to Congress whether and how they may conduct oversight. If the intelligence committee chairs want oral briefings from him every day, they have that right.

Second, party politics aside, Congress has the power to coerce this testimony and ought to exercise it. Otherwise, they countenance being treated as an ancillary, rather than co-equal, branch of government. They should demand Ratcliffe appear forthwith and, if he refuses, hold him in contempt of Congress and freeze his budget.

Third, to the extent concerns about leaks are genuine and not partisan politics, the intelligence committee chairs should certainly crack down on their members. But it’s unclear how Radcliffe’s refusal to appear helps. Are the written briefs going to be completely based on open-source information? If so, they’re useless. Ditto the testimony by the individual agency heads.

Fourth, it doesn’t appear that Evanina disclosed any information that should have been classified. The American people have a right to know whether Russia or any other hostile power is attempting to interfere in our elections. What needs to be kept secret is how we’re answering that question.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Congress, Intelligence, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Evidence that the Former Reality Show Host expect Putin to assist his reelection effort.

    4
  2. de stijl says:

    Who condoned that? Wow.

    There will be a reckoning over that statement.

    Is there a distinction between ODNI and DIA?

    This looks and feels like the FDA declaring convalescent plasma was an a actual preventative or therapeutic. (It isn’t)

    Partisan oversteppers hyped on hubris.

    Please, November!

  3. It is possible, I suppose, that the House will hold him in contempt. I am having a hard time seeing the GOP-led Senate following suit nor joining in any other sanctions.

    7
  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    Putin helped Trump steal the election in 2016, the Putin-Trump ticket intends to do the same this time.

    Trump is in Putin’s pocket. Has been since well before 2016. He’s a traitor.

    But we’ve been over all this, back in the days when Trumpaloons would still show up here and lie for the cult leader. Now they don’t bother, they’ve tacitly accepted Trump’s illegitimacy and corruption. Unable to make a case in the real world they sink into the black hole of batshit conspiracy theories.

    9
  5. Mister Bluster says:

    Mad Magazine was my first political journal.

    2
  6. de stijl says:

    I am not a walk in a crowd protest person. But this really concerns me hard.

    This should not happen here.

    Can someone talk me down? Am I over-reacting? This sounds very, very bad.

    State institutions serve all of America, red or blue, right?

    This strikes me as a very bad development.

    4
  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    Can’t talk you down. Trump and the entire Republican Party are thoroughly corrupt, happy to have Russia’s help, happy to cover it up, willing to destroy the country so long as they’re the last ones standing atop the smoking rubble.

    8
  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: Alas, and contrary to Dr. Taylor’s optimistic take yesterday, I think we are close to/at one of the endgame points in authoritarian government–we now can rest assured that we can’t rely on what the government is saying to be true. It really IS all bullshirt.

    @Michael Reynolds: When I said this kind of stuff about conservatives/Republicans while I was in Korea, I used to get down voted for saying it (with occasional reference to how spot on my screen name was, IIRC). Do I get to note how prescient and foresighted I was then now that the rest of you guys have caught up?

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  9. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Thanks for keeping me on track.

    Do I really have to be a protest person? I am more comfortable with words and music and video games.

    What the fuck am I going to put on my sign? How do I hook up? Judging by Minneapolis, I have park a half mile out so my tires don’t get punctured.

    I’ll be a sign guy, not a leafblower guy. God bless ’em, that is so genius.

    God damnit! I was comfortably retired, but a coup pisses me off too hard.

    4
  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    @de stijl:

    I believe you live in Iowa. You have 2 R senators, start there, pepper the crap out of their office, send faxes, emails haunt their websites and facebook pages and enlist your friends to help.

    5
  11. de stijl says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    In March I sent e-mails to my city council member, state rep, state senator, and US representative to do whatever necessary to get the Governor to issue a lockdown.

    Later to all on face masks.

    Reynolds still has not issued anything. It is embarrassing. She actually made it difficult for municipalities and counties to issue such orders.

    I am not passive.

    Actually, I got an autoresponse from my US Rep saying she would only respond to people in her district. I sent back my street address. She lives in my hood less than a mile away.

    No worries, an intern effed up.

    I have not been a walk the street protest guy.

    We seem to have a good BLM crew here. The Republicans banned them from the State House, so that means they annoyed them.

    But this is not a BLM protest, but an anti-coup thing.

    I am comfortably an observer and analyst. Active action would be new.

    I kinda think this is going to turn out as redux Brownshirts vs. Reds in the streets come November. Some of it is happening now in Portland (obvs), Mpls, Milwaukee, and Kenosha, and others.

    Thank you very much Donald J fucking Trump.

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  12. Kurtz says:

    @de stijl:

    What video games you play?

  13. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @de stijl: Yes, DIA and ODNI are different. DIA is the managing Intelligence arm for all of DOD.

    ODNI is an extra bureaucratic post that is suppose to coordinate intelligence activities across ALL of the USG–meaning FBI, CIA, DHS, DOD etc

    1
  14. An Interested Party says:

    In a way, I guess it doesn’t really matter that Ratcliffe won’t be showing up on Capitol Hill to brief congressmen in person, as, if he did, he would only spew obfuscating bullshit anyway…I mean, after all, he’s a Trump toady…