Trump halts election security briefings, Democrats complain

Washington: The United States’ top intelligence office told lawmakers it will end in-person briefings on election security because there had been leaks from congressional committees, officials said on Saturday.

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The move drew heated rejoinders from Democrats who have focused on foreign efforts to sway the presidential election in 2016 and again this year.

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President Donald Trump’s new director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, notified the House and Senate intelligence panels on Friday that the office would send written reports instead, giving lawmakers less opportunity to press for details as the November 3 election approaches. An official in Ratcliffe’s office, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it was “concerned about unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information following recent briefings.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff decried the move. “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,” they said in a statement.

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Ratcliffe’s office had offered to hold in-person briefings for the House and Senate oversight panels next month, even after concerns surfaced about leaks from previous meetings, a House committee official said. It later rescinded the offer.

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The decision was first reported by CNN.

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Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican and acting chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement late on Saturday that he had spoken to Ratcliffe who “stated unequivocally” to him that he would fulfil the intelligence community’s obligations to keep members of Congress informed.

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The committee will continue receiving briefings on all oversight topics, including on election matters, Rubio said Ratcliffe told him.

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It was unclear whether Rubio meant those would be in-person briefings. Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters while on a visit to Texas that Ratcliffe will “ultimately give full briefings, in terms of not oral briefings, but fully intel briefings.” The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said this month that Russia, which orchestrated a hacking campaign to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favour, was trying to “denigrate” Trump’s 2020 Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. And it said China and Iran were hoping Trump is not re-elected.

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“For clarity and to protect sensitive intelligence from unauthorised disclosures, we will primarily do that through written finished intelligence products,” the ODNI official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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Biden said in a statement late on Saturday that ODNI was curtailing one of the intelligence community’s most basic duties and it is “nothing less than a shameless partisan manipulation to protect the personal interests of President Trump.” Ratcliffe, a close political ally of Trump, is a former member of the House intelligence panel and was a vocal defender of the president during investigations of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election. He told senators during his confirmation hearing this year that “the intelligence I deliver will not be subject to outside influence.”

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