Schiff calls on DNI Grenell to explain intelligence community changes

 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffMcCarthy urges Democrats to pull surveillance bill Key Senate Democrat withdraws support from House measure on web browsing data Trump urges GOP to vote against bill reauthorizing surveillance powers MORE (D-Calif.) sharply rebuked acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell on Tuesday for his management changes to the intelligence community and demanded that he address some of Schiff's concerns. 

In a letter to Grenell, Schiff laid out his concerns that Grenell’s changes were made without consulting Congress and that he was restricting intelligence on election security that members of Congress should be aware of. 

“I am writing to express my concern that you are pursuing organizational and personnel changes at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) without consulting and seeking authorization from Congress and in a manner that undermines critical intelligence functions,” Schiff wrote. 

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One major issue Schiff expressed concern over was President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill Fauci: Nominating conventions may be able to go on as planned Poll: Biden leads Trump by 11 points nationally MORE’s decision last week to fire Michael Atkinson, the now-former inspector general for the intelligence community. Atkinson alerted Congress to the anonymous whistleblower complaint around Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that ultimately kicked off the impeachment investigation into Trump. 

“The Committee is reviewing the circumstances of Mr. Atkinson’s dismissal, including whether his termination was intended to curb any ongoing investigations or reviews being undertaken by his office,” Schiff wrote. 

Schiff asked Grenell to provide a written certification to his committee that he would not interfere with the work of future officials in that role and that he certify he has never interfered in the work of Thomas Monheim, now the acting inspector general of the intelligence community. 

Schiff also pointed to concerns that Congress did not approve recent reductions in staffing for the National Counterterrorism Center and condemned the removal or departure of every Senate-confirmed official at the ODNI, along with other senior officials in acting capacities. 

Election security is an issue that both the House and Senate intelligence committees have examined since Russian interfered in the 2016 presidential election. 

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The House and Senate each received separate briefings from top administration officials around potential election interference in 2020 on March 10. Schiff accused Grenell on Tuesday of allowing his staff to “interfere with the production and briefing of intelligence information” on election security that was given to Congress. 

“If accurate, this politicization of intelligence would constitute a grave breach of your duty as Acting DNI to preserve the independence of the IC, protect the integrity of U.S. elections, and keep the Congress fully and currently informed of intelligence activities,” Schiff wrote. 

He also asked that Grenell keep Congress informed of the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on election securityfollowing confusion over primaries in several states. 

Grenell pushed back against Schiff, tweeting on Tuesday shortly after the letter was made public that it “was sent to the press before it was sent to me. These press leaks politicizing the intelligence community must stop.” 

A source with knowledge of the situation told The Hill that the letter was sent to Grenell almost 15 minutes before it was sent to the press. 

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The ODNI did not immediately respond to request for further comment from The Hill. 

Grenell, who previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Germany, was appointed acting director of national intelligence by President Trump in February following Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireTop intel official leaving post Grenell announces creation of intelligence community 'cyber executive' Ratcliffe refuses to say whether Russian election interference favored Trump MORE’s departure from the role.

Maguire left the position after being strongly reprimanded by Trump for allowing officials in the intelligence community to brief the House Intelligence Committee, including Schiff, on concerns that Russia may be seeking to interfere in the 2020 presidential election in an effort to reelect Trump.