Pelosi retorts counterintel chief in private briefing on Russian interference

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An official with the office of the director of national intelligence said that Evanina, in her statement last week, was “completely clear that the intelligence community will continue to educate the American public and other key stakeholders about threats. to the election and mitigation measures ”.

“Unlike some, we do not comment on the content of classified briefings,” the official said.

“Today’s briefing was a highly confidential session in which representatives from half a dozen intelligence agencies presented the most sensitive information in the hands of the US government on foreign threats to the elections.” , said the official. “Director Evanina, a career intelligence officer with over 30 years of federal service, is incredibly disappointed with the inability of some to protect the classified information they are legally obligated to safeguard and to attempt to use it for others. partisan purposes. Our adversaries benefit only from these partisan divisions and they are all too happy to exploit them to harm our country.

Helpers at Pelosi and Hoyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The sharp exchange at the meeting underscores a frayed relationship between intelligence leaders in the Trump administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill with less than 100 days to go to the 2020 election. Democrats fear that Trump – who has previously indicated that ‘he would consider accepting foreign aid – could seek to suppress or downplay information suggesting that a foreign power was interfering on his behalf. Meanwhile, Trump allies say Democrats seek to militarize confidential information to harm Trump in the final months of the campaign.

Evanina eventually admitted that Russia was once again trying to boost President Donald Trump’s re-election and disparage his opponent, alleged Democratic candidate Joe Biden, sources who attended the meeting said. But that did not satisfy Democrats, who urged him to say the same publicly – and to be specific.

Evanina responded by saying that the statement released last week was just the start of the process of warning the public about foreign interference campaigns, and said he expected the director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe reveals more about it during a Global Threats Hearing – a year-long public briefing to lawmakers by top intelligence and national security officials on the key threats the country faces.

But whether this hearing will even take place is uncertain. Acting Senate Intelligence Chairman Marco Rubio said this week that “it has become more difficult to reach agreement on a forum that does not turn into a political circus”, citing “a strong politicization” of intelligence on the issue of foreign interference.

The threats hearing was due to take place in January, but was delayed after intelligence officials demanded it be moved entirely behind closed doors, fearing their assessments would anger Trump, who has long questioned the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was interfered with in the 2016 elections.

Several Capitol Hill sources pointed out that it was rare for Pelosi, a veteran of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the so-called Gang of Eight – the small, bipartisan group of lawmakers with access to high-level briefings on the intelligence – to express such frustrations. in this context. Members spoke about it later in the House, they said.

After leaving the briefing, Pelosi expressed some of his frustrations to reporters.

“What concerns me is that the American people should be better informed,” she said.

“Chief Schumer and I wrote to them and said, ‘Tell the American people the truth,’ and for some reason they’re withholding it,” she added. “That’s what worries me.”

When asked if she had any recourse to force the administration to comply, Pelosi replied, “We’ll see. Pelosi later told CNN that “there are very specific ways” of interfering with the Russians “that I am not free to disclose, but we believe the intelligence community can do so, without compromising sources and the methods.”

The tensions at Friday’s briefing come amid a public and highly unusual row between the Democratic and Republican sides of the Gang of Eight over the amount of information to be shared with the public about election interference and the efforts of the Eight. Russia in particular. With less than 100 days of the election, concerns about Russian interference via Ukrainian actors peak among Democrats, who see a continued Kremlin effort to harm Biden and push the Trump administration to more direct public statements and specific to the threat.

Evanina is expected to give a Senate election security briefing next week, starting Monday. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Who has seen some of the intelligence surrounding foreign election interference efforts before, said he believes the administration and the intelligence community “need to make much more public than ‘they never did’.

“There are individuals who openly fit into the 2020 election, and if we have confidence in their connection to foreign governments, the American public deserves to know that,” Murphy said. “I don’t know what the point of collecting all this information about foreign interference is if you’re never ready to tell the public what’s going on.

He added that “if the Russians send agents to the United States to interfere in the election, I don’t care whether they work for Republicans or Democrats – there is no reason not to return this. public information ”.

Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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