Top Democrats sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Tuesday demanding that he resume election-related intelligence briefings to Congress.
The letter comes days after CNN first reported Ratcliffe had notified lawmakers that intelligence officials from his office would no longer brief congressional committees on election security matters in person but would provide information only in written form.
“Your abrupt decision to cancel previously scheduled election-related briefings, contrary to repeated private and public commitments by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), is an abdication of your responsibility to keep the American people and their elected representatives informed of foreign threats to the 2020 election,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of California and Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana wrote.
“It is all the more troubling as it comes only weeks before the American people begin casting votes and within weeks of the Intelligence Community (IC) affirming publicly that our elections and American voters are once again the target of foreign interference,” they added.
CNN first reported that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had notified lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence committees about the briefing format change. The abrupt change runs counter to the pledge of transparency and regular briefings on election threats by the intelligence community.
It comes after the top intelligence official on election security issued a statement last month saying China, Russia and Iran are seeking to interfere in the 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 election said last week that they have “no information or intelligence” that 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 mailed 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 last Wednesday.
Trump claimed decision was prompted by leaks
On Saturday, Trump claimed that the decision to alter the briefings had been prompted by unauthorized leaks and cast blame on Democrats.
“Director Ratcliffe brought information into the committee, and the information leaked,” Trump said at an event in Texas.
“So he wants to do it in a different form because you have leakers on the committee, obviously, leakers that are doing bad things, probably not even legal to leak, but we’ll look into that separately,” the President said.
In response to Trump’s accusations of leaks, Schiff tweeted, “As usual, President Trump is lying and projecting. Trump fired the last DNI for briefing Congress on Russian efforts to help his campaign. Now he’s ending briefings altogether. Trump doesn’t want the American people to know about Russia’s efforts to aid his re-election.”
Democrats have pointed out that the move to limit briefings for lawmakers comes after the intelligence community publicly confirmed that Russia is seeking to interfere in the US presidential election and is working to “denigrate” former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The IC confirmed publicly on August 7 that only one country – Russia – is actively undertaking a ‘range of measures’ to interfere in the election. Your decision, moreover, comes as the Congress itself is the target of a concerted effort by Russia to launder and amplify disinformation, including through a ‘pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian’ who is spreading false claims ‘to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party,’ ” the lawmakers wrote in their letter Tuesday.
Specifically, Democrats are demanding that Ratcliffe reinstate a briefing for the House Intelligence Committee that had previously been scheduled for September 17, which they say had been proactively offered by ODNI. They also call for reinstatement of a briefing for all House members that had also been tentatively scheduled for September.
Schiff previously told CNN that House lawmakers would consider issuing subpoenas should Ratcliffe decline to resume briefings, a threat the lawmakers reiterated in their letter Tuesday.
“If you are unwilling to resume election-related intelligence briefings to Congress, we will have no choice but to consider the full range of tools available to compel compliance,” they wrote.
“This intelligence belongs to the American people, and they have a right to know more about ongoing foreign efforts to influence their votes and interfere in our democratic process. With voting imminent in many states, it is imperative for the IC to disclose as much information as possible publicly – without further delay, conflation, or false equivalency – about our adversaries’ aims, activities, and agents, as well as what the IC is doing to expose and thwart this interference,” the letter states.
CNN’s Jake Tapper and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.