Politico

Whistleblower says top Trump appointees tried to censor reports on Russian influence


Top Trump appointees at the Department of Homeland Security repeatedly sought to censor or stop reports on Russian influence activities in the United States, according to a whistleblower report released by the House Intelligence Committee.

The report, filed by former senior DHS official Brian Murphy, alleges that acting secretary Chad Wolf, his predecessor Kirstjen Nielsen and other senior DHS brass engaged in “a repeated pattern of abuse of authority, attempted censorship of intelligence analysis and improper administration of an intelligence program related to Russian efforts to influence and undermine United States interests.”

That pattern, Murphy alleged, stretched from March 2018 until last month.

The report describes a series of additional alleged abuses and legal violations by current and former leaders, including Nielsen, Wolf and an acting deputy, Ken Cuccinelli.

Murphy, who served as the Office of Intelligence and Analysis’ undersecretary, filed the 24-page complaint on September 8, alleging that he was instructed to halt the assessments because they were making “the president look bad.” The report was delivered by Murphy’s attorney, Mark Zaid, to the Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has asked Murphy to testify on Sept. 21, and the interview is likely to take place in secure House facilities that would permit Murphy to discuss classified details he was unable to include in the public version of his complaint.

Among the concerns raised in the complaint: Cuccinelli ordered Murphy to downplay intelligence about white supremacy to make the threat appear “less severe” and play up evidence of “left-wing” violence. A required Homeland Threat Assessment that included sections on white supremacy and Russian influence in the United States was also blocked, Murphy alleged, because of how it might reflect on Trump. And he was asked to modify intelligence assessments “to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups,” the complaint says.

Spokespeople for DHS and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Wolf and Nielsen also didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In the complaint, Murphy outlined “a repeated pattern of abuse of authority, attempted censorship of intelligence analysis and improper administration of an intelligence program” related to Russia’s influence efforts. And he claimed he was instructed by Wolf to “instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran.”

The claim aligns with concerns expressed recently by national security officials and others briefed on the latest election threat intelligence that the administration is trying to draw attention away from the more acute threat posed by Moscow — which the intelligence community says is again trying to boost Trump’s reelection.

Democrats have accused top counterintelligence official Bill Evanina and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe of conflating Moscow’s efforts with Beijing’s in order to appease Trump, who has sought to quash any suggestion that Russia’s interference helped him win in 2016. President Donald Trump has also frequently sought to portray himself as tougher on China than his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

Murphy’s complaint goes beyond issues related to Russia, however, alleging that DHS leaders also purposefully distorted information about the southern border wall to fit the president’s narrative.

He filed two inspector general complaints specifically about Nielsen’s congressional testimonies in December 2018 and March 2019, according to the complaint, alleging that Nielsen perjured herself about the number of known and suspected terrorists crossing the southern border.

Only three had crossed by March 2019, but Nielsen had previously testified that the number was nearly 4,000.

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