Schiff wants ODNI to scrub out politics from election security briefs

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. (Gage Skidmore)

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Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, wrote to acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell on Monday asking him to share communications about an intelligence briefing on election security provided to lawmakers last month over concerns that some of the information may have been politicized, according to the letter.

During the intelligence briefing in question, which took place behind closed doors March 10, intelligence officials told lawmakers that Russia was not directly supporting any presidential candidates in the buildup to the 2020 presidential election, according to The New York Times. Just days earlier, U.S. intelligence officials told the House Intelligence Committee that Russia had a preference for President Donald Trump’s candidacy, as CyberScoop reported.

The discrepancy in the two briefings raised concerns that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence began politicizing possible election interference information shared with Congress just after a new acting DNI took the reins.

Just days before the March 10 briefing, Grenell replaced Joseph Maguire as acting DNI, who was ousted after the first briefing reportedly angered Trump.

“Reports indicate that one or more members of your staff may be inappropriately interfering with the production and briefing of intelligence information on election security to Congress, including information that was briefed to all Members on March 10,” Schiff wrote to Grenell. “If accurate, this politicization of intelligence would constitute a grave breach of your duty as Acting DNI to preserve the independence of the [intelligence community], protect the integrity of U.S. elections, and keep the Congress fully and currently informed of intelligence activities, including by providing national intelligence that is ‘independent of political considerations.’”

Schiff, D-Calif., warned Grenell and intelligence officials’ behavior may jeopardize the relationship between lawmakers and the intelligence community as the 2020 presidential election looms, casting doubt over whether lawmakers have full and accurate information on possible foreign interference in U.S. democratic processes.

“[I]t calls into doubt whether Congress and the American people can trust that the IC will continue producing unvarnished intelligence assessments on foreign interference efforts as the 2020 presidential election approaches,” Schiff said.

Although the first briefing left lawmakers with the impression Russia had a preference for Trump’s candidacy, the briefing also broadly indicated Moscow is still interested, as it was in 2016, in sowing chaos and doubt in the U.S. electoral process. Russia has also been interested this year in sowing division amongst Democratic voters, a person familiar with the February briefing told CyberScoop.

Russians have been running influence operations related to candidates in 2020, but there is no evidence to date that Russia has tried tampering with any vote counts, the ODNI’s election security lead, Shelby Pierson, said earlier this year.

Schiff has requested that “any and all” communications about the assessment shared at the March 10 briefing, as well as communications about the participation of the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center in that briefing, be shared with the committee later this month.

Schiff also requested the House Intelligence Committee receive a briefing with an election security update by the end of May.

“It is critical that Congress remain apprised of activities surrounding the security of the 2020 presidential election, especially during the Coronavirus pandemic,” Schiff said.

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2020 elections, Adam Schiff, Congress, Director of National Intelligence, election security, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Richard Grenell, Russia
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