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Schiff vows to ‘compel’ intelligence on election security after DNI head Ratcliffe ends in-person briefings

2020-08-30 16:30:45

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday that Democrats will consider a subpoena for National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe after he announced the House and Senate intelligence committees would no longer receive in-person briefings on election security. 

In a letter to the heads of those committees Friday, the nation’s top intelligence official said the move was intended to ensure intelligence regarding “elections security, foreign malign influence, and election interference is not misunderstood nor politicized.” 

Ratcliffe said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that he would “continue to keep Congress informed” through written updates. He explained the main reason for the change was to stop “a pandemic of information being leaked out of the intelligence community.” 

“When I went through confirmation, people watched that, they heard me make a couple of promises,” Ratcliffe said. “One of them was to always follow the law. The other was that I would do everything I could to protect the unauthorized disclosure of classified information, allowing people to leak it for political purposes. The action that I announced yesterday is entirely consistent with that.” 

Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Ratcliffe’s claim “doesn’t make any sense” because written briefings could just as easily be leaked and such concerns did not stop other briefings. 

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“Unless the goal is not to allow members of Congress, the representatives of the American people, to ask questions,” Schiff said. “You can state things in a written report that are not correct, and you can’t be subject to questioning about it.” 

Schiff said live testimony “forces accountability.” 

“When you can hide behind documents or withhold documents and not have to answer questions about it, it lets you conceal the truth,” he said. 

“It’s a complete outrage,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.” She said that when foreign countries are trying to meddle in an election, that “is not where you cut off Congress from getting the information.” 

“That’s what happened in 2016, there wasn’t enough information out there. Now we know. We’ve learned a lesson,” Klobuchar said. “And I think the House is going to have to subpoena the director of intelligence in order to get information, which is crazy.” 

Asked whether he planned to subpoena intelligence officials for a hearing before the election, Schiff said, “That is certainly one of the tools that we may use.” 

Schiff said that decision would  be up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

“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,” Schiff said. “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.” 

“Congressional oversight of intelligence activities now faces a historic crisis,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement Saturday after Ratcliffe’s announcement.

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Rubio bemoaned intelligence leaks, citing media reports that included information shared by National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina in briefings this month. 

“Yet, this grotesque criminal misconduct does not release the intelligence community from fulfilling its legal requirements to respond to Congressional oversight committees,” Rubio said. He said Ratcliffe “stated unequivocally that he will continue to fulfill these obligations” and “explicitly” said the Senate Intelligence Committee “will continue receiving briefings on all oversight topics, including election matters.” 

It was unclear whether Rubio meant Ratcliffe intended to continue in-person briefings on election security for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which would contradict Ratcliffe’s stated position. 

Schiff said the claim that leaks were behind the decision to end the briefings echoed “another lie by the president,” who said in Lousiana on Saturday that Ratcliffe “got tired” of “leakers on the committee.” 

“Whether it was Shifty Schiff or somebody else, they leak the information before it gets in,” President Trump said. 

“Leaks are always improper, and sometimes they’re illegal,” said Schiff, who denied any leaks had come from him or his staff. 

“I can’t speak for what all the members of the committee have done or not done, including a lot of the Republican members,” he added. 

The debate over the intelligence centers on which country poses the greatest threat to election security.

In a statement Aug. 7, Evanina said China, Iran and Russia were all trying to influence the election. Russia was working to “boost” Trump and “denigrate” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, he said, and China and Iran don’t want to see Trump reelected. 

Pelosi and other Democrats said Russia’s efforts on Trump’s behalf were of a different magnitude than interference by China and Iran. Sunday, Schiff accused Ratcliffe and other Trump administration officials of misrepresenting the intelligence to create a “false equivalence” regarding the three countries’ efforts. 

“Only one country – Russia – is actively undertaking a range of measures to undermine the presidential election and to secure the outcome that the Kremlin sees as best serving its interests,” Pelosi and Schiff said in a joint statement Saturday. 

Sunday, Ratcliffe insisted on Fox News that China is the greater threat. 

“In an unclassified setting, I can’t get into a whole lot of details, other than to say that China is using a massive and sophisticated influence campaign that dwarfs anything that any other country is doing,” Ratcliffe said. 

Ratcliffe served three terms in the House, where he was an Intelligence Committee member, before being sworn in as director of national intelligence May 26. Ratcliffe was a fierce defender of Trump during his impeachment and the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin’s effort to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. Democrats objected that Ratcliffe was too partisan and lacked the intelligence experience needed for the role. 

Schiff surmised on CNN that Trump was behind Ratcliffe’s decision in an effort to hide Russian efforts to help his reelection. 

Who is John Ratcliffe?: The man Trump named director of national intelligence

“The president evidently believes that he can’t beat Joe Biden without getting either foreign help or disenfranchising people from voting during a pandemic, and doesn’t want the country to know about it,” Schiff said. “He realizes if the country learns again that the Russians once again are intervening to try to help him in the election, he feels that that takes away from their assistance. So he doesn’t want the American people to know about it. He doesn’t want Congress to know about it.” 

Rubio said Democrats “disingenuously” implied “that additional and relevant information was being withheld because it was damaging” to Trump. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Adam Schiff vows to compel intel after John Ratcliffe stops briefings

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