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Democrats demand answers on report DHS withheld Russian election interference intelligence

Democrats demand answers on report DHS withheld Russian election interference intelligence
© Greg Nash

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonLong-shot Espy campaign sees national boost in weeks before election House chairman asks Secret Service for briefing on COVID-19 safeguards for agents Hillicon Valley: House panel says Intelligence Community not equipped to address Chinese threats | House approves bill to send cyber resources to state, local governments MORE (D-Miss.) and Rep. Max RoseMax RoseCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote Lawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday demanded answers around a report that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) withheld information on Russian interference in the presidential election.

ABC News reported Wednesday that DHS withheld the publication of a bulletin from the Office of Intelligence Analysis (I&A) that found evidence that Russian actors were attempting to use “allegations over the poor mental health” of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE to sway the election.

According to ABC News, the analysis was scheduled to be distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement partners on July 9, but a senior DHS official intervened on July 7 and delayed the bulletin’s release. The analysis has still not been sent out, with DHS telling ABC News that it had failed to meet the agency’s standards for release. 

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Thompson and Rose — the latter of whom serves as chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism — raised serious concerns around the bulletin being withheld, writing in a letter to acting DHS Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfBusiness groups, universities file lawsuit over new rules targeting H-1B visas US extends Mexico, Canada border closures House Democrats ask DHS to consider flu vaccinations for immigration detainees MORE on Wednesday that they viewed the decision as an effort to “skew” the intelligence analysis process. 

“This is the latest in a series of actions that politically appointed Department leaders have taken to politicize the operations of the Department and skew the intelligence analysis that so many law enforcement officers across the country count on to keep Americans safe,” Thompson and Rose wrote. “It also runs counter to the mission and integrity of any intelligence organization to have its products edited or held up for review by political advisers.”

The House Democrats asked Wolf to produce by Sept. 16 all documents related to the decision to delay the release of the bulletin, any intelligence products cited by the bulletin, and details on other publications that had been withheld or edited by the agency in the past. 

In a second letter to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, Thompson and Rose urged him to review the ABC News report and consider updating a plan around an ongoing investigation into DHS and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis. 

“This report, if accurate, not only reveals a departure from standard practice but also raises deeply troubling questions about political influence on the production and dissemination of DHS intelligence products, which must not serve any political agenda—even when the truth is damaging to the party in control of the White House,” Thompson and Rose wrote to Cuffari. 

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A spokesperson for DHS did not comment on the letters from Thompson and Rose, but told The Hill the draft bulletin was withheld because it "lacked the necessary context and evidence for broader dissemination."

"After briefing the Acting Secretary and he asked questions, I&A career leadership decided to delay the product for further review," the spokesperson said. "These quality concerns in the work process and tradecraft of I&A were also at issue last month when the Acting Secretary took action to remove I&A leadership. I&A is committed to fulfilling its mission to keep the Homeland safe and secure which included the sharing of three reports on election security in August 2020 with state and local partners."

Wolf described the ABC News as including "inaccurate" accusations during an appearance on Fox News' "The Daily Briefing" on Wednesday, with Wolf noting that the report had been delayed because it was "poorly written."

"They are hard at work on rewriting that report, putting in some better context, and I hope to see that report out soon," Wolf added. 

Biden’s campaign on Wednesday strongly criticized DHS for withholding the bulletin, with campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates telling CNBC that “Trump does not want to expose the degree to which his political partners in the Kremlin are propagating this message for his benefit.”

“He is blocking the intelligence community from sharing with federal and state law enforcement a crucial finding: that Russia is disseminating false and scurrilous attacks on the health of Joe Biden — one that aligns with Trump’s own constantly-backfiring attacks,” Bates said.

The two House Democrats were not the only members of Congress to raise concerns around the intelligence bulletin being withheld by DHS. 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGreenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats MORE (D-Calif.) criticized the Trump administration for both withholding the bulletin and canceling in-person election security congressional briefings, a change announced by Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeGreenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox 50 former intelligence officials warn NY Post story sounds like Russian disinformation Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump MORE earlier this week.

"We will get to the bottom of this, so the American people are not left in the dark," Schiff tweeted

“Every official responsible for withholding critical facts about Russian interference is complicit in covering up an attack on our country by a foreign adversary and must be held accountable,” Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee Wyden Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing House Democrats slam FCC chairman over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump FCC to move forward with considering executive order targeting tech's liability shield MORE (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. 

“There’s nothing subtle about how Trump’s cronies are politicizing intelligence and weakening our country,” Wyden added. 

Concerns around election interference have spiked in recent weeks following an analysis released by a senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that Russian agents were attempting to sway the election in favor of Trump, while Iranian and Chinese actors were working to sway the election in Biden’s favor.

-Updated at 6:05 p.m.