Democrats accused President Trump of concealing help from Russia in his reelection bid after the Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe notified Congress over the weekend that his office primarily will provide written briefings on foreign election interference, instead of in-person briefings.
“Russians are again interfering to help the president in his reelection,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He doesn’t want the American people to know about it.”
Mr. Ratcliffe sent letters to congressional leaders Saturday, apprising them that he has decided to rely on written briefings “to ensure clarity and consistency.”
He said the move will “better protect our sources and methods” from unauthorized disclosures, canceling briefings scheduled for mid-September.
He defended his decision Sunday, telling Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo on “Sunday Morning Futures” that a number of Congress members have leaked classified information for what he called the political purpose of creating a false narrative that Russia is a greater national security threat than China.
“We’ve had a pandemic of information being leaked out of the intelligence community,” he said. “I’m going to take measures to make sure that stops.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Mr. Schiff said the move leaves lawmakers and the American people in the dark about security problems mere weeks before the November elections.
Mr. Schiff said written briefings do not subject administration officials to questioning and oversight.
“It lets you conceal the truth,” he said.
Calling the move “crazy,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, told ABC News that it will require the House to subpoena Mr. Ratcliffe.
“We are going to have to demand the information to protect our elections,” Ms. Klobuchar said.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden’s campaign, called the decision “deeply alarming.”
“This should be reversed immediately,” Mr. Bates said.
On Sunday, allies of the president pushed back against criticism from Democrats over Mr. Ratcliffe’s move.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf told ABC that his department focuses on preventing cyberattacks on election infrastructure and that Mr. Ratcliffe was concerned about classified information being leaked.
Mr. Wolf said his Homeland Security has briefed lawmakers on security issues and will do so in-person ahead of the election, saying his agency’s information is different from the election interference issues the DNI analyzes.
But he noted that the director of national intelligence issued an assessment earlier this month about Russia, China and Iran having put out disinformation to sow discourse.
“This is nothing new that we are looking at. The department is on top of this,” Mr. Wolf said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, emphasized the issue of leaking, saying the decision was made to stop the type of misinformation that allowed the media to create the false narrative that Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign conspired with Russia to win the election.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller probed the Trump campaign for roughly two years and did not find any wrongdoing on behalf of the president or collusion with Russians.
Mr. Johnson said the issue over written versus in-person briefings was being blown out of proportion because members of Congress already know that foreign countries are trying to influence elections and destabilize politics.
He also said the U.S. has destabilized itself with leaks from Democrats and false media narratives.
“We can’t play into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s hands,” Mr. Johnson told CNN. “We have done it to ourselves.”
⦁ Mike Glenn contributed to this report.
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