‘A slap in the face to the American people’
The President’s explanation for the change to election security intelligence briefings Saturday sounded benign, as usual. While visiting Texas to survey the response to Hurricane Laura, he said Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe had eliminated the in-person briefings because he wanted to make sure that election security information “doesn’t leak.”
Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, rejected that explanation as a rationale during an interview Saturday with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”
“The taxpayers of America are paying billions of dollars for the collection of intelligence — and we, the people, should have the benefit, the knowledge that that intelligence brings,” said King, who caucuses with the Democrats. “Learning about it next February or March doesn’t do much good. We’re talking about interference with our election this year, which we know is going on — the intelligence community has already told us that.”
King pointed out that members of Congress need the face-to-face briefings in order to ask follow-up questions to the written reports, to probe and deepen representatives’ understanding of the intelligence. “So this is a real step backward. It’s a real slap in the face to the American people, who have a right to know what the intelligence community knows. That’s what they’re there for.”
But Trump dismissed the alarm sounded by lawmakers like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, two of his top political adversaries, who called the maneuver “a shocking abdication” of the administration’s “lawful responsibility” to keep Congress informed and “a betrayal of the public’s right to know” about efforts by foreign powers to interfere in their elections. The President suggested without evidence that Schiff or others might have leaked information from previous intelligence briefings.
“Director Radcliffe brought information into the committee and the information leaked,” Trump told reporters in Texas in response to a question about the reason for the change. “Whether it was shifty Schiff or someone else, they leaked the information before it gets in and what’s even worse they leaked the wrong information and he got tired of it, so he wants to do it in a different form because you have leakers on the committee.”
Schiff responded on Twitter Saturday night by saying the President was “lying and projecting.” The California Democrat argued that Trump fired the last Director of National Intelligence for briefing Congress on Russian efforts to help his campaign.
“Now he’s ending briefings altogether,” Schiff tweeted. “Trump doesn’t want the American people to know about Russia’s efforts to aid his re-election.”
King told Blitzer that during his nearly eight years on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he couldn’t recall any time when anything was leaked from the committee.