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House Democrat accuses Ratcliffe of politicizing election security intelligence

House Democrat accuses Ratcliffe of politicizing election security intelligence
© Greg Nash

Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinTwo men charged with making threatening calls to Michigan officials House Democrats request documents from DHS intelligence office about Jan. 6 attack Lawmakers mull domestic terrorism statute in wake of Jan. 6 attack MORE (D-Mich.) on Wednesday accused 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 of politicizing election security intelligence on behalf of President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE and urged him to take a number of steps to improve transparency.

Slotkin, a former CIA officer and former special assistant to the director of national intelligence, pointed to serious concerns over Ratcliffe’s decision last month to declassify a letter citing unverified Russian intelligence that claimed former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMedia circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm MORE approved a plan to “stir up scandal” against President Trump during her 2016 presidential campaign.

“Recently, you declassified information—which the Intelligence Community cannot corroborate—as part of an apparent effort to undermine the past assessments of nonpolitical career intelligence analysts,” Slotkin wrote in a letter to Ratcliffe on Wednesday. “Press reports indicate that you released this information despite concerns from the leadership of both the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency.”

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Slotkin noted that “the uncorroborated claims, which you hastily briefed to Republican Senators on September 29, were subsequently repeated by the President during the first presidential debate in a further attack on the patriotic, hard-working women and men of the Intelligence Community which you lead.”

Ratcliffe and other intelligence officials have been involved in briefing members of Congress in recent months about election threats. One senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) assessed in August that Russia, China, and Iran were actively interfering in U.S. elections. 

Slotkin cited classified information on election security threats in sharply criticizing Ratcliffe and the intelligence community for “drawing false equivalency” between threats from the three countries, accusing Ratcliffe of “seeking to bolster a future case by President Trump, if he loses, that Chinese interference caused his loss.”

“I am intimately familiar with your obligation to provide unvarnished, fact-based analysis to senior policy officials,” Slotkin wrote. “Your actions appear intent at distracting from the primary threat to our democratic process posed by Russia, and instead amplifying claims about China’s influence efforts.”

Slotkin noted that public statements by Ratcliffe and the ODNI did “not accurately reflect” information given to members of Congress during an Oct. 1 election security briefing from career intelligence officials. 

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Slotkin also criticized Ratcliffe for his announcement last month that the ODNI would submit written statements on election security concerns and no longer conduct in-person briefings for all members of Congress.  

She cited the “gravity” of her concerns in requesting that Ratcliffe commit to allowing the leaders of the National Security Agency and the CIA to brief all members of Congress on election threats. Slotkin also asked him to commit to personally testifying before Congress with other administration leaders on election threats and to commit to producing intelligence assessments for Congress giving a full picture of potential Russian and Chinese interference after Election Day. 

"Affirmative commitments in these three areas would help to reassure Members of Congress, and the American people, that the U.S. Intelligence Community will assess foreign influence free from partisan political pressure, as is your obligation and consistent with your sworn testimony before the Senate,” Slotkin wrote.

The ODNI did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on Slotkin’s letter. 

Slotkin’s concerns were raised as concerns around potential foreign election interference have spiked and as Democrats have increasingly called for more information around election security threats to be made public. 

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The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a series of joint public service announcements in recent weeks warning of potential threats, including foreign adversaries attempting to undermine voter confidence in election outcomes. 

The leaders of the FBI, CISA, NSA and the National Counterintelligence and Security Center on Tuesday put out a joint video emphasizing the security of the upcoming elections and efforts underway to ensure an accurate and safe election. 

“If we see indications of foreign interference or federal election crimes, we’ll aggressively investigate and work with our partners to take appropriate action, including seeking criminal charges where warranted,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the video. 

The concerns come four years after Russian government-backed agents launched a sweeping and sophisticated attack on the U.S. presidential election designed to favor Trump's campaign, an effort that included a disinformation campaign on social media along with targeting of voting infrastructure in all 50 states and Democratic servers.