Trump’s intelligence chief reverses decision to halt in-person election briefings for congressional committees

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe reversed course Wednesday on his decision to end in-person election security briefings for key members of Congress by announcing that the intelligence community will continue to provide lawmakers on relevant oversight committees with in-person updates about threats to November’s election.

Ratcliffe and other agency leaders met with a group of top lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight on Wednesday to propose a “path forward” for providing both congressional intelligence committees with election threat updates later this month, a senior intelligence official told CNN.

Later Wednesday, Ratcliffe issued an on-the-record statement confirming that the intelligence community will continue to offer election security briefings for the House and Senate committees but insisted that the move was consistent with the letter he sent to Congress last month announcing that those updates would “primarily” be provided in written form, rather than in person.

“Earlier today I shared with Congressional leadership my proposal on how the IC will share election threat updates with Congress. My position remains unchanged. Consistent with my August 28 letter to Congress, I will continue to provide Congressional leadership and the intelligence oversight committees appropriate updates to keep Congress fully and currently informed,” Ratcliffe said.

“In order to protect sources and methods, the IC will not provide all-member briefings, but we will work to provide appropriate updates primarily through written finished intelligence products,” he added.

The senior intelligence official who spoke with CNN on Wednesday characterized the meeting between Ratcliffe and bipartisan lawmakers as “productive” but would not say if the proposed path forward included delivering the election threat updates in-person or if they would be provided to the committees in writing.

The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate intelligence Committee, Marco Rubio and Mark Warner, issued a joint statement Wednesday saying the panel would continue to receive in-person briefings on all oversight issues, including election threats.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee plays a critical role in conducting oversight of the Intelligence Community, and intelligence agencies have a legal obligation to keep Congress informed of their activities,” they said.

“Last month, Director Ratcliffe reaffirmed that the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue receiving briefings, including in-person, on all oversight topics — including election matters. As we have in the past, the Committee will continue to expect timely and complete information from our intelligence agencies,” the lawmakers added.

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, also issued a statement saying “after extensive public criticism, the Office of Director of National Intelligence committed to providing the cancelled in-person briefing to both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.”

“But these briefings for the intelligence committees must not obviate the need to keep all Members and the American people appropriately and accurately informed about the active threats to the November election,” the Democrat said.

Ratcliffe’s original decision provoked an uproar

The news comes weeks after CNN first reported that Ratcliffe informed lawmakers that the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence would no longer receive in-person briefings on election security issues from officials in his office. Instead, ODNI would primarily provide written updates to the congressional panels, he said at the time

That abrupt announcement marked a change that ran counter to the pledge of transparency and regular briefings on election threats by the intelligence community.

It came after the top intelligence official on election security issued a statement last month saying China, Russia and Iran are seeking to interfere in the 2020 US election, a warning that prompted some backlash from Democrats on Capitol Hill who have continued to push for the public release of more information about the nature of those efforts.

Prior to that announcement, US officials charged with protecting the 2020 election also said that they had “no information or intelligence” foreign countries, including Russia, are attempting to undermine any part of the mail-in voting process, contradicting President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly pushed false claims that foreign adversaries are targeting mail ballots as part of a “rigged” presidential race.

Specifically, a senior intelligence official discounted the possibility of foreign actors mass producing fake ballots to interfere in the November elections, again breaking with Trump who has continued to insist that mail-in voting poses a significant threat to election security.

Trump claimed Ratcliffe was ‘tired’ of leaks

At the time, Trump said Ratcliffe “got tired of” information leaking “so, he wants to do it in a different form.”

“He wants to do it in a different form because you have leakers on the committee, obviously, leakers that are doing bad things, probably not even legal to leak, but we’ll look into that separately,” Trump said last month.

Ratcliffe appeared to change his tune after meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday but while the Senate Intelligence Committee appears poised to continue in-person election security briefings, it remains unclear if the same can be said for the House panel.

An official with the House Intelligence Committee declined to comment when asked about Wednesday’s meeting.

The senior intelligence official did note that the intelligence community will continue to keep the rest of Congress informed primarily through written briefings, as Ratcliffe stated in his letter last month.

“The ODNI has led an unprecedented effort to share election threat information with Congress. The IC has provided over 50 election security briefs to Members of Congress and Congressional staff since January 2018 and has released multiple public statements,” the senior intelligence official added.