Trump’s national security chief scales back briefings on election interference

Critics say the move 'just reinforces the pass Putin is getting' from the US

Phil Thomas
New York
Monday 31 August 2020 16:03
Adam Schiff says House could subpoena intelligence officials for election interference hearing

Donald Trump's director of national intelligence will no longer offer verbal briefings on the security of US elections, according to reports.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that it will continue to provide written briefings to the House and Senate intelligence committees but will not guarantee in-person ones, CNN reported.

An official said that John Ratcliffe the director of national intelligence, "is committed to meeting our statutory responsibilities and keeping Congress fully and currently informed".

However, the move was met with alarm by Democrats and former members of the Obama administration.

Adam Schiff, Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, tweeted: "The ODNI has cancelled all further briefings on foreign election interference. The Administration clearly does not want Congress or the country informed of what Russia is doing. The last DNI was fired for doing so, and the IC has now been fully brought to heel."

James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence himself, said the move "just reinforces the pass Putin is getting" from the US.

He told CNN: "I think it's both amazing and disturbing that, here we are just over two months away from a crucial election, and of course we all know the history of 2016, where the Russians pervasively and deep invaded us and our political process.

"And now what I think is probably the single most important government voice on this, the director of national intelligence, is about to go silent."

He added: "It's a new norm for me that appearing before the Congress is kind of optional. It certainly hasn't been that way in the past."

Gen Clapper said verbal reports were crucial because the back-and-forth of questioning can elicit important information.

Mr Trump has repeatedly played down US intelligence reports that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, even publicly siding with Vladimir Putin over his own officials at a press conference in Helsinki in 2018.

Security sources have said they believe the Kremlin wants Mr Trump to win re-election in November, and has also said they believe China favours Joe Biden as he is less unpredictable, something Republicans have seized on to boost their candidate.

In July Bill Evanina, the top intelligence official in charge of election security, issued a statement saying: "We assess that China prefers that President Trump -- whom Beijing sees as unpredictable -- does not win re-election.

"China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China's interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China."

He added: "We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia 'establishment'.

"This is consistent with Moscow's public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration's policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia."

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