Schiff claims DHS is blocking whistleblower's access to records before testimony

Schiff claims DHS is blocking whistleblower's access to records before testimony
© Greg Nash

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse Democrats want to silence opposing views, not 'fake news' White House defends not sanctioning Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi What good are the intelligence committees? MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday accused the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of preventing an agency whistleblower from accessing classified records before congressional testimony.

Schiff asserted that DHS is seeking to place conditions on which documents whistleblower Brian Murphy can review ahead of his testimony on Friday, and that the agency is blocking his attorneys from getting security clearances.

Murphy, the former acting under secretary of the agency's Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), has alleged that top officials at the department sought to politicize intelligence.


Schiff said if these issues are not resolved before Friday then the committee will plan to subpoena Joseph Maher, the top official carrying out the duties of the under secretary for intelligence and analysis, to publicly testify about the matter.

“Absent your cooperation, including authorization of appropriate security clearances for Mr. Murphy’s attorneys in time for his deposition on Friday, September 25, please be advised that the Committee is prepared to resort to compulsory process to compel I&A’s production of responsive records that remain concealed from the Committee and your appearance next week at an open hearing of the Committee," Schiff wrote in a Thursday letter to Maher.

"During which you will be expected to explain why the Department is preventing a whistleblower from providing classified testimony by stonewalling authorization of clearances to his personal attorneys and your own knowledge and involvement in matters under investigation,” he added.

Schiff said while DHS informed Murphy's attorneys that the agency will process their request for temporary security clearances, they have yet to grant them, despite Murphy's slated deposition on Capitol Hill. He was initially scheduled to provide testimony earlier this week, but the deposition was postponed until Friday.

The California Democrat also alleged that the agency has refused to allow Murphy and his legal team to "review any classified documents" ahead of his deposition.


"DHS’s refusal to make these documents available, and its insistence on imposing spurious bureaucratic hurdles prior to granting attorney clearances in time for the deposition, deprives Mr. Murphy of his ability to be represented by counsel and is a transparent effort to delay the deposition, obstruct the Committee’s investigation, and bury the truth," Schiff wrote.

A DHS spokesperson dismissed Schiff's claims, saying the agency is working with the committee to accommodate their requests whereas Democrats were seeking to rush the process.

"DHS is cooperating with the Committee in good faith and attempting to engage through the accommodation process," the spokesman said in a statement. "It is the Committee that is ignoring the required accommodation process and instead seeking to needlessly rush an expansive, undefined investigation. Despite that, DHS has continued to engage in good faith and has made and is making witnesses and documents available, just as it does with any congressional inquiry."

The spokesman added that they are working to expedite security clearances for Murphy's lawyers on "an expedited process," but noted that such a process "takes time" because it requires proper vetting.  

"We can only hope that the Chairman would prefer that the Department not cut corners on something so critical as the security of the American people just to meet an arbitrary deadline," the spokesman added.


The spokesman also argued that Murphy – who recently was moved to DHS's management division, a move he describes as a demotion – was not in a "need to know" position in his current role. His complaints, however, centered on his time in I&A.

Schiff recently informed DHS that he would be expanding the panel's investigation into the agency after Murphy's complaint was sent to Congress earlier this month.

The complaint alleges that acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad 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 says he declined multiple orders to alter or modify intelligence products to help support the administration's agenda, which he claims led to a retaliatory demotion.

DHS has denied the allegations against Wolf, who has been formally nominated to serve as head of the agency.

Updated at 5:45 p.m.