The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned on Aug. 29 that congressional oversight of intelligence activities is in crisis after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) told lawmakers that it will opt for written election intelligence briefings to prevent further leaks from congressional sources.
“Congressional oversight of intelligence activities now faces a historic crisis,” Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) acting Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement.
“Intelligence agencies have a legal obligation to keep Congress informed of their activities. And members of Congress have a legal obligation to not divulge classified information. In my short time as Acting Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have witnessed firsthand how this delicate balance has been destroyed.”
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced the transition to written briefings in an Aug. 28 letter to Rubio and SSCI ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.) Ratcliffe explained that the new format will help ensure that election intelligence briefings aren’t “misunderstood or politicized,” according to a copy of the letter (pdf) obtained by The Epoch Times.
Election security briefings have been subject to a number of leaks during the 2020 presidential campaign. Most recently, congressional sources leaked that Russia is still working to help reelect Trump while China would prefer Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden to win.
“Divulging access to classified information in order to employ it as a political weapon is not only an abuse, it is a serious federal crime with potentially severe consequences on our national security,” Rubio said. “This situation we now face is due, in no small part, to the willingness of some to commit federal crimes for the purpose of advancing their electoral aims.”
Warner didn’t mention leaks in a statement criticizing the switch to written briefings.
“Director Ratcliffe’s outrageous decision to stop providing briefings to Congress is an unprecedented attempt to politicize an issue—protecting our democracy from foreign intervention—that should be non-partisan,” Warner wrote on Twitter. “The Senate Intelligence Committee does not and will not accept ODNI’s refusal to brief Congress in the 66 days ahead of the election.”
Rubio noted that despite the leaks and the breakdown in the oversight process, the ODNI is still obligated to brief Congress. Rubio said that he’s spoken to Ratcliffe and was assured that the ODNI will continue to fulfill its obligations.
“In particular, he made explicitly clear that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will continue receiving briefings on all oversight topics, including election matters,” Rubio said.
In addition to notifying Rubio and Warner, Ratcliffe sent copies of the letter to the Gang of Eight and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate defense subcommittees of the Committee on Appropriations.