Politico

Senate Republicans defend Ratcliffe for curbing election security briefings


Senate Republicans dismissed concerns this week about the Trump administration’s decision to effectively cut off the Democratic House of Representatives from in-person briefings on election security — and they expressed confidence that the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee will continue to hold such sessions in the run-up to Election Day.

GOP senators also defended John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, in the wake of his order to end in-person briefings on election-security matters due to a recent spate of classified leaks.

“[It] is a chronic problem around here. People go into the SCIF and they get a classified briefing and next thing they come out and start telling everything they heard to the press,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an Intelligence Committee member, referring to the secure facility in the Capitol where lawmakers view and discuss classified information.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and the Intelligence panel, said it would be “totally inappropriate” to cut off the Senate committee but said he does not believe Ratcliffe has done that, despite Ratcliffe’s letters to congressional leaders last month informing them of his decision.

“I think it’s also inappropriate for every member of the Congress who has chosen not to try to serve on that committee to think that they need to know everything that people on the Intel Committee know,” Blunt added.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting chair of the Intelligence Committee, had organized a series of briefings for all members of the Senate earlier this year. Blunt suggested that Ratcliffe’s new posture was justified because “that information didn’t stay in the room.”

Despite ODNI’s directive, Rubio said he fully expects that the Senate Intelligence Committee will still have the opportunity to question U.S. intelligence officials in person about their assessments on election security, including on efforts by foreign actors to interfere in the campaign.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Rubio said in an interview when asked if his panel will still host in-person briefings on election security. “We have oversight over those agencies and their work, and we’re going to continue to do it.” Rubio also said last week that he’s been given confirmation the panel will still have such access to intelligence officials.

Intelligence officials have said publicly that Russia is again seeking to interfere in the presidential election to boost President Donald Trump and denigrate Joe Biden. Democrats have pressed the Trump administration to disclose more details about the Kremlin’s intentions.

GOP lawmakers’ comments this week highlight the disparity emerging between the two intelligence panels, both of which conduct regular oversight of the U.S. intelligence community. Democrats said it appeared that the GOP-controlled Senate panel was getting preferential treatment, while the Democrat-led House Intelligence Committee was being shut out.

“I don’t think you can cherry-pick who you want to talk to when you’ve got a congressional obligation,” Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) said.

Rubio declined to comment on whether it would be appropriate for Ratcliffe to shut out the House while continuing to brief the Senate, but said his panel is continuing to schedule briefings with ODNI.

“It more really is dependent on how many more weeks we’re here before the election,” Rubio added.

Warner said he has spoken with Rubio privately about the issue, though the committee has received no “formal response” to their requests briefings.

House Intelligence Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Ratcliffe last week demanding that he reinstate two series of briefings that were initially scheduled for later this month but were abruptly canceled after’s Ratcliffe order.

Their letter included an implicit threat to issue subpoenas or withhold critical funding. According to a committee aide, the panel “has not received any clarity or answers from ODNI in response to our many calls, emails or letters. None, zero, zilch, nada.”

A representative for Ratcliffe did not immediately response to a request for comment.

Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

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