The official added that other agencies supporting election security, including the Department of Justice, Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, intend to continue briefing Congress.
Still, the abrupt announcement is a change that runs counter to the pledge of transparency and regular briefings on election threats by the intelligence community.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff on Saturday denounced the decision by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — first reported by CNN — to no longer provide in-person briefings to members of Congress, including the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, on election security.
“This is a shocking abdication of its lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed, and a betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy. This intelligence belongs to the American people, not the agencies which are its custodian. And 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,” they said in a statement.
“The ODNI had requested the opportunity to brief the intelligence committees and the full US House of Representatives in mid-September and has now cancelled those briefings and said it would hold no others. This is shameful and — coming only weeks before the election — demonstrates that the Trump Administration is engaged in a politicized effort to withhold election-related information from Congress and the American people at the precise moment that greater transparency and accountability is required,” Pelosi and Schiff added.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Saturday also called the decision not to provide briefings an “abdication of the Intelligence Community’s duty” and said Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe “has made clear he’s in the job only to protect Trump from democracy, not democracy from Trump.”
“Our intelligence officials have said there’s an active, ongoing assault on our democratic process from Russia. President Trump is simply using John Ratcliffe to hide the ugly truth from the American people – that the President is again receiving the help of the Kremlin,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign condemned the move and called on it to be reversed.
“For his administration to constrain the information being provided to the peoples’ representatives in Congress as this national security threat multiplies — especially given Donald Trump’s unprecedented welcoming of these assaults on our democracy for his own gain — is deeply alarming. This should be reversed immediately,” spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement Saturday.
An ODNI official defended the move Saturday, telling CNN that Ratcliffe “is committed to meeting our statutory responsibilities and keeping Congress fully and currently informed.”
“For clarity and to protect sensitive intelligence from unauthorized disclosures, we will primarily do that through written finished intelligence products. We are concerned with unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information following recent briefings,” the official said.
Frustration over leaks
Intelligence officials have previously expressed frustration over information presented in classified sessions with congressional committees leaking to the press but offered no indication of a coming change to the briefing format.
“In an election year, we recognize that no matter what the U.S. Intelligence Community says on this issue, it will be parsed, spun and likely criticized in the U.S. political ecosystem. The bottom line is that this represents the most current, accurate and objective election threat information the Intelligence Community has to offer the public at this time,” an ODNI official told CNN earlier this month.
“The steps we have taken thus far to inform the public and other key stakeholders on threats to the election … are unprecedented for the Intelligence Community. We will continue providing election threat updates to the American public, the presidential campaigns, political committees, and members of Congress,” the ODNI official added.
Last month, the top intelligence official for election security, Bill Evanina, also reiterated a commitment to providing “robust intelligence-based briefings on election security” to key stakeholders that include Congress, along with the political parties and presidential campaigns.
A shift to written briefings will undoubtedly limit lawmakers’ ability to ask questions of intelligence officials in real time, according to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
“With a written release or a written report, you avoid the back-and-forth of questions, some of which could be quite probing. And I think, I think the DNI would like to avoid that and avoid the risk of saying something that might incur the wrath of the…