ODNI to scale back election security briefings to House committees

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is scaling back its election security briefings to the congressional intelligence committees, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

ODNI told congressional officials that it will still provide written briefings, but that they should not expect verbal, in-person briefings on the topic, according to a congressional official.

The move is likely to enrage congressional Democrats, who have long charged the Trump administration with downplaying threats to U.S. elections from foreign actors, especially Russia.

ODNI did not immediately respond to a request for comment. CNN first reported the development.

ODNI decided to scale back the briefings because classified material from recent briefings leaked out, according to a U.S. intelligence official and a congressional official in touch with the office.

ODNI officials were particularly angry about a leak from an all-House classified briefing led by top counterintelligence official Bill Evanina late last month, where Rep. Nancy Pelosi accused him of keeping Americans in the dark about the details of Russia’s continued interference in the 2020 campaign.

Evanina ultimately acknowledged in that briefing that Russia is again trying to boost President Donald Trump’s reelection and denigrate his opponent, Joe Biden. In a statement at the time, an ODNI official said Evanina was “incredibly disappointed in the inability of some to protect classified information they are legally obligated to safeguard and instead attempt to use it for partisan gain.”

On the more recent moratorium on verbal briefings, an ODNI official provided this statement to POLITICO: “We are committed to meeting our statutory responsibilities and keeping Congress fully and currently informed. For clarity and to protect sensitive intelligence from unauthorized disclosures, we will primarily do that through written finished intelligence products. We are concerned about unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information following recent briefings. The DNI is committed to ensuring Congress is fully and currently informed and that classified information is protected.”

FBI Director Chris Wray also recently dodged Democrats’ requests for all-member briefings. In response to their requests that he brief the full House and Senate on election threats, Wray wrote a letter to Sens. Chuck Schumer and Mark Warner and Reps. Pelosi and Adam Schiff on August 21 indicating that while he shared their concerns, the member briefings were being led capably by top counterintelligence official Bill Evanina along with select FBI personnel and other national security officials, according to two people who have seen the letter.

He also mentioned the FBI’s Protected Voices program, an initiative begun in 2018 that aims to help political campaigns and individuals protect themselves against foreign influence operations and cybersecurity threats. ODNI has not clarified if Evanina will give in-person briefings on election security to all members of Congress in the future.

Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.


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