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Rubio says congressional oversight of intelligence faces 'historic crisis' following DNI announcement

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP senators question Amazon on removal of book about 'transgender moment' CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Watch live: Day 2 at CPAC MORE (R-Fla.), acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said congressional oversight is facing a “historic crisis” after Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeFormer Trump officials eye bids for political office Grenell congratulates Buttigieg on becoming second openly gay Cabinet member Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE notified Congress on Saturday that the intelligence community will be scaling back in-person congressional briefings on election security.

“Congressional oversight of intelligence activities now faces a historic crisis,” Rubio said in a statement. “Intelligence agencies have a legal obligation to keep Congress informed of their activities.”

In his letter to Congress announcing the change, Ratcliffe said that the intelligence community would switch over to written updates on election security issues to ensure that intelligence information “is not misunderstood nor politicized.” 

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Rubio in his statement said that members of Congress “have a legal obligation to not divulge classified information” and that in his time as chairman he has “witnessed firsthand how this delicate balance has been destroyed.”

Earlier this month, William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, released a statement detailing election security threats, including Russian efforts to help President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE win reelection.

Evanina faced criticism from congressional Democrats because his report also noted that China prefers that Trump not win reelection and that Iran is engaging in efforts to undermine Trump and U.S. institutions.

Democrats and others have claimed Evanina and the Trump administration are pushing a false equivalency because they say that neither China nor Iran is attempting to undermine the 2020 election like Russia is.  

“The statement gives a false sense of equivalence to the actions of foreign adversaries by listing three countries of unequal intent, motivation and capability together,” Democratic leaders said.

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House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Some Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerA Biden stumble on China? First Black secretary of Senate sworn in Republican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote MORE (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats said that Evanina's assessment did not go nearly far enough and called his report vague. 

Rubio said that Evanina’s “reward” for the report “was to be smeared in vile and personal terms in a letter signed by Democratic leaders of Congress.”

The Florida senator went on to say that intelligence officials briefed "virtually every member" of Congress in a series of small groups. However, he said, before the second day of House briefings began, "the classified information they had shared was already in the media." 

“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.

He added that “this grotesque criminal misconduct does not release the intelligence community from fulfilling its legal requirements to respond to Congressional oversight committees and to keep members of Congress fully informed of relevant information on a timely basis.”

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The acting chairman noted that he spoke with Ratcliffe, who “made explicitly clear” that the committee “will continue receiving briefings on all oversight topics, including election matters.” He said the committee "will continue to expect timely and complete information from our intelligence agencies."

Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the decision “outrageous.”

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has an obligation to brief Congress on threats to our elections,” Warner said in a statement. “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.”