Democrats smell blood with new DHS whistleblower complaint
House Democrats are moving quickly to investigate a new whistleblower complaint that alleges top leaders at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) repeatedly sought to politicize intelligence to appease President Trump.
Brian Murphy, a career public servant and former acting under secretary of the agency’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, said in a whistleblower reprisal complaint made public Wednesday that political appointees sought to modify or suppress vetted intelligence to match or support Trump’s public remarks on various issues.
Democrats say the complaint, which catalogues multiple protected disclosures that Murphy made over the past two years, poses a threat to U.S. national security, and they are vowing to investigate.
Already, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is initiating the next steps by subpoenaing Murphy to appear for a deposition on Sept. 21.
“If written products are being altered for political reasons, or worse withheld entirely, how can the American people trust that this Administration will inform voters on how foreign powers are trying to influence them … particularly when it contradicts the President’s preferred narrative or personal political interests?” Schiff said in a statement. “In short, they can’t, and that’s dangerous.”
“We will get to the bottom of this, expose any and all misconduct or corruption to the American people, and put a stop to the politicization of intelligence,” added the California Democrat, who has launched previous investigations into the president.
The GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee has not publicly stated its intentions, but a source familiar said the panel plans to examine the complaint.
Some Democrats want to see heads roll sooner rather than later.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is calling for the resignation of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
“[Wolf] is a corrupt sycophant who’s willingness to cater to Trump’s fragile ego puts our democracy at risk,” Coleman tweeted on Thursday. “I asked for his resignation before. I’m demanding it now. He fails the fundamental job of keeping our country safe.”
Trump recently decided to promote Wolf from interim to permanent DHS chief, with the White House making a formal announcement Thursday amid all the backlash.
The whistleblower complaint points to the actions of Wolf; former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen; Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli; Miles Taylor, who served as Nielsen’s chief of staff; and the acting deputy director for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Kash Patel.
The submission alleges a pattern of abuse of authority by the DHS officials.
“Mr. Murphy made several protected disclosures between March 2018 and August 2020 regarding a repeated pattern of abuse of authority, attempted censorship of intelligence analysis and improper administration of an intelligence program related to Russian efforts to influence and undermine United States interests,” according to the complaint, which was sent to Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
The most alarming claim was that Wolf, under the direction of White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, instructed Murphy earlier this year to stop producing intelligence reports centered on Russian interference efforts and instead focus on the threats posed by China and Iran.
Murphy alleged the administration has peddled a false narrative that puts Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert the U.S. election on par with Iran and China.
He went on to say that his refusal to alter vetted intelligence sparked talk of terminating his employment. Ultimately, Murphy says he was reassigned to the role of assistant to the deputy under secretary for the DHS management division, a move he described as a retaliatory demotion.
DHS has denied the allegations in Murphy’s complaint.
“We flatly deny that there is any truth to the merits of Mr. Murphy’s claim. DHS looks forward to the results of any resulting investigation and we expect it will conclude that no retaliatory action was taken against Mr. Murphy,” DHS spokesperson Alexei Woltornist said in a statement.
“The Acting Secretary is focused on thwarting election interference from any foreign powers and attacks from any extremist group,” Woltornist added.
Still, to Trump critics, attempts by political appointees to cater to his wants and wishes is not entirely surprising: They argue he has demanded loyalty and cultivated a culture of fear in which failure to execute his demands could mean not only losing one’s job, but also a potentially career-damaging attack on Twitter.
The topic of Russian interference has been touchy for the president, whose administration faced a years-long cloud of suspicion over whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in 2016.
In three separate, but parallel, investigations, the House, Senate and a federal probe led by now-former special counsel Robert Mueller did not find sufficient evidence that such a conspiracy took place. Mueller and the other investigations, however, largely concluded that Russia sought to help Trump in 2016 and hurt his Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that the Trump campaign was open to receiving foreign assistance in the heated race.
Murphy’s complaint suggests that Trump has sought to punish officials who raise concern about Russia’s persistent efforts to interfere in U.S. elections. The intelligence community warned earlier this year that Moscow is using a range of measures to “primarily denigrate” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden ahead of November.
The submission says that during an appearance before the House, Intelligence and Analysis Under Secretary David Glawe testified about Russian interference and received pushback from GOP members, which later led him to be summoned to the White House. While Trump pushed Nielsen to fire Glawe, Nielsen and then-White House chief of staff John Kelly were able to convince the president to give him another chance.
The pledge by Democrats to investigate comes less than eight weeks before the presidential election and almost a full year after an earlier whistleblower complaint was sent to Congress, which raised concern that Trump was pressuring Ukrainian leaders to investigate his political foes — Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden — ahead of the 2020 presidential race.
The swift vow to investigate the DHS whistleblower complaint has echoes of the impeachment efforts against Trump, as Democrats seek to follow the new investigative string.
Some Republicans have needled Democrats over the 2019 parallels. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) reacted to news of Murphy’s complaint by tweeting: “Another ‘whistleblower?’”
Most of the underlying information in the complaint is classified and cannot be included in an unclassified submission to Congress, but the complaint says Murphy “is more than amenable to making a classified presentation on this information — whether verbally or in writing — if provided with the requisite authorization to do so.”
Democrats may also seek to hear from other individuals named in Murphy’s complaint.
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