Trump moves to shut Congress out of intelligence on Russian election interference

Trump moves to shut Congress out of intelligence on Russian election interference
President Donald J. Trump welcomes President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin as he arrives to attend their bilateral meeting during the G20 Japan Summit Friday, June 28, 2019, in Osaka, Japan. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The squatter in the Oval Office, and all of the people intent on keeping him there, are at this point not even bothering to pretend they will do anything to make that happen. Including going back to the well of foreign interference and hog-tying Congress to keep the American public in the dark about it. This chapter of the story starts in February, a lifetime ago when coronavirus was just a thing lurking in our side vision, when Trump purged everyone in intelligence services who were working to keep Russia at bay by keeping Congress and the public informed on election interference. Trump's Office of the Director of National Intelligence has closed that circle now, CNN has learned, by announcing that it will not be holding in-person briefings with the intelligence communities, but will instead provide information in writing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff responded following the ODNI's announcement: "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. 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-person briefing are critical to lawmakers' ability to ask questions, investigate, challenge assumptions, and be fully apprised of what's happening.

"With a written release or a written report, you avoid the back-and-forth of questions, some of which could be quite probing. And I think, I think the DNI would like to avoid that and avoid the risk of saying something that might incur the wrath of the President," former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN on Saturday. "I think this is a terrible thing with respect to the need to inform the electorate about what foreign nations are doing to interfere in our political process, most notably the Russians," he added.

Clearly, Trump doesn't want the nation to hear that Russia is at it again, and really doesn't want Pelosi, Schiff, and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Mark Warner—the Democrats in the Gang of Eight read into classified intelligence—to know what's going on. “We expect the Administration and Intelligence Community to keep us fully and accurately informed, and resume the briefings,” Pelosi and Schiff wrote. ”If they are unwilling to, we will consider the full range of tools available to the House to compel compliance.”

It helps to remember how we got here. It all with a briefing by intelligence officer Shelby Pierson to the House Intelligence Committee in mid-February on the topic of election security, specifically “election security and foreign interference in the run-up to the 2020 election.”

Trump became enraged, presumably, because “the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly, the people familiar with the matter said.” So Trump then hauled in then-acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire, fired him and several of this deputies. He replaced Maguire, temporarily, a loyalist with no intelligence experience, Ric Grenell, eventually installing John Ratcliffe as DNI, a Republican congressman who was on the intelligence committee, had heard that briefing, rushed to the White House to inform Trump what they—and Democrats—had been told. And now, Ratcliffe is in charge and he's not going to be working with Congress any more.

Back in March, when Grenell was still in the acting ODNI capacity, he ditched a congressional briefing on Russia's election meddling, reportedly to avoid the subject that spurred the intelligence purge. It appears that will now be official policy—no transparency from top intelligence on election security.


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