US President Donald Trump’s top intelligence official has informed Congress that his office will no longer give in-person election security briefings on Capitol Hill, a move that raised concern among legislators about the public’s right to know about foreign interference in the upcoming presidential election.
Trump said on Saturday that National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe made the decision because the administration “got tired” of intelligence about election security leaking from Congress.
“They leaked the information … and what’s even worse, they leaked the wrong information and we got tired of it,” Trump told reporters while attending a briefing on Hurricane Laura in Orange, Texas. He did not offer details to support his statement.
Senator Angus King, of the state of Maine, said the idea that the national intelligence director’s office would stop briefing Congress on foreign threats to the US election is “an outrage” and that written updates were “flatly insufficient”.
“America’s election – indeed, our foundation of democracy itself – is under threat as we face weaponised disinformation from global foes around the planet,” King, a member of the Senate’s intelligence committee, said in a lengthy statement.
“To stifle and limit the American peoples’ awareness of this fact cannot be explained – or allowed.”
Ratcliffe, who oversees the nation’s intelligence agencies, sent formal notification letters Saturday to the Senate and House leadership and the chairmen and ranking members of both chambers’ intelligence committees.
In the letter, Ratcliffe wrote: “I believe this approach helps ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the information ODNI provides the Congress in support of your oversight responsibilities on elections security, foreign malign influence, and election interference is not misunderstood nor politicised.”
Betrayal of the public
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was with Trump in Texas, said legislators will still be sent full written readouts.
Meadows said Ratcliffe is going to make sure there are “proper tools for their oversight”.
Earlier this month, the nation’s counterintelligence chief, William Evanina, issued a statement saying US intelligence officials believe Russia is using various methods to denigrate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and that people linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin are boosting Trump’s reelection bid.
US officials also believe China does not want Trump to win a second term and has accelerated its criticism of the White House, Evanina wrote.
On Saturday, Democratic legislators criticised Ratcliffe’s decision.
“This intelligence belongs to the American people, not the agencies which are its custodian,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep Adam Schiff, the Democrat who chairs the House’s intelligence committee, said in a joint statement.
“The American people have both the right and the need to know that another nation, Russia, is trying to help decide who their president should be.”
Pelosi and Schiff called the decision a “betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy”.
An official with the House intelligence committee said the decision was unexpected because Ratcliffe’s office earlier had reached out to schedule an in-person briefing to the committee on September 17.