Intelligence chief shifts election security briefings to written updates

Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeUFOs are an intriguing science problem; Congress must act accordingly How transparency on UFOs can unite a deeply divided nation Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE notified Congress that the intelligence community will be scaling back in-person congressional briefings on election security and replacing them with written updates ahead of November.

The top intelligence official argued this process will better protect the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information, a statement that appears to be a nod toward Congress leaking information. 

According to letters addressed to top House and Senate lawmakers with a Friday time stamp, Ratcliffe defended the changes and emphasized that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) intends to continue supporting Congress with its oversight efforts.

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"The ODNI will primarily meet its obligation to keep Congress fully and currently informed leading into the Presidential election through written finished intelligence products," the letters read, according to copies obtained by The Hill.

"I believe this approach helps ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the information ODNI provides the Congress in support of your oversight responsibilities on elections security, foreign malign influence, and election interference is not misunderstood nor politicized. It will also better protect our sources and methods and most sensitive intelligence from additional unauthorized disclosures or misuse," the letters added.

A House Intelligence Committee official told The Hill that the panel was informed of the changes verbally. The official said they later received the letter. 

Ratcliffe noted that the intelligence community's move to written products will satisfy the 17 statutory requirements laid out in the National Defense Authorization Act for this fiscal year.

Democrats, meanwhile, decried the shift.

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"This is a shocking abdication of its lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed, and a betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy. This intelligence belongs to the American people, not the agencies which are its custodian," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse erupts in anger over Jan. 6 and Trump's role Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections Lobbying world MORE (D-Calif.) and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe, eyeing new GOP reinforcements GOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

Pelosi and Schiff threatened that they will "consider the full range of tools available to the House to compel compliance" if the ODNI does not resume briefings, claiming it is a "shameful" attempt by the Trump administration to "withhold election-related information from Congress and the American people at the precise moment that greater transparency and accountability is required."

CNN first reported the shift from in-person briefings to written updates.

The announcement comes after William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, released a statement detailing election security threats earlier this month.

Evanina warned that Russia and some Kremlin-linked actors are trying to hurt former Vice President Joe Biden and others it views as part of the anti-Russia "establishment" while trying to "boost President TrumpDonald TrumpNew Capitol Police chief to take over Friday Overnight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip MORE’s candidacy on social media and Russian television."

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"For example, pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense: Senate panel adds B to Biden's defense budget | House passes bill to streamline visa process for Afghans who helped US | Pentagon confirms 7 Colombians arrested in Haiti leader's killing had US training On The Money: Senate braces for nasty debt ceiling fight | Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan deal | Housing prices hit new high in June Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE’s candidacy and the Democratic Party," Evanina said.

Evanina, however, has faced criticism because the statement also noted that China prefers Trump not win reelection as well as Iran. Democrats and others claimed Evanina and the Trump administration are pushing a false equivalency, stating that neither Iran nor China is actively working to undermine the 2020 election like Russia is.  

"The aims and actions of Russia, China and Iran are not the same.  Only one country – Russia – is actively undertaking a range of measures to undermine the presidential election and to secure the outcome that the Kremlin sees as best serving its interests," Schiff and Pelosi wrote.

The friction comes roughly two months ahead of Election Day and amid a heated race between Trump and Biden.

Updated 7:25 p.m.