By LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — With only two months until ballots are tallied, the intelligence community informed lawmakers that it would cease in-person election security briefings, citing concern over “unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information.”
“For clarity and to protect sensitive intelligence from unauthorized disclosures, we will primarily do that through written finished intelligence products,” an Office of the Director of National Intelligence official told ABC News.
Newly minted Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe informed a bipartisan group of congressional leadership and intelligence committee chairmen on Saturday that “this approach helps ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the information ODNI provides the Congress … is not misunderstood nor politicized.”
“In the last few months alone, the [intelligence community] … have provided Congress with more than a dozen briefings,” Ratcliffe continued. “While many of these engagements and products have been successful and productive, others have been less so.”
The development was met with swift and stern backlash from congressional Democrats.
“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,” wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., in a statement reacting to Ratcliffe’s letter.
Earlier this month, a senior ODNI official confirmed that malign foreign actors, including Russia, China and Iran “continue to use covert and overt influence measures in their attempts to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, shift U.S. policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process.”
According to CNN, which was first to report the news, “other agencies supporting election security, including the Department of Justice, Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, intend to continue briefing Congress.”
Even so, John Cohen, a former undersecretary for intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security, said that “by refusing to brief congress on a significant threat facing this country, administration officials are placing this country at grave risk.”
“The House and Senate intelligence committees have a long history of receiving and protecting our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” Cohen continued. “We’ve heard repeatedly over the past several years of the serious threat facing our nation from hostile foreign actors seeking to influence the outcome of the 2020 election.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. slammed the decision in a statement.
“DNI Ratcliffe has made clear he’s in the job only to protect Trump from democracy, not democracy from Trump,” he said. “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.”
In concluding their statement, Pelosi and Schiff said they “expect the Administration and Intelligence Community to keep us fully and accurately informed, and resume the briefings.”
“If they are unwilling to,” the lawmakers warned, “we will consider the full range of tools available to the House to compel compliance.”
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