Trump digs in on conspiracy theory over bin Laden raid
Schiff to subpoena top DHS official, alleges whistleblower deposition is being stonewalled
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Friday said he is moving forward with a subpoena for a top official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), claiming the agency has obstructed a whistleblower from accessing records ahead of a congressional deposition.
Schiff is seeking the public testimony of Joseph Maher, the top official carrying out the duties of the undersecretary for Intelligence & Analysis (I&A), in which Schiff says he wants to hear Maher explain why former undersecretary Brian Murphy was not granted access to classified records related to his whistleblower complaint.
Murphy's complaint claims top political appointees at DHS sought to politicize intelligence to match President Trump's public remarks.
Schiff said Murphy's lack of access to records has led his committee to postpone a deposition before his panel from Murphy for a second time.
"The Committee has again been forced to reschedule the deposition of Brian Murphy until next week, because DHS persists in delaying authorization of appropriate security clearances for his attorneys, and continues to bar Murphy from reviewing any classified materials in preparation for his deposition," Schiff said in a statement.
"The Committee has informed DHS that it will have no choice but to subpoena the current acting head of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, among other compulsory steps to secure testimony and documents," the California Democrat continued.
Murphy, a career official who until recently served as the acting undersecretary of I&A, alleges in his complaint that there was a pattern of misconduct in which top political appointees repeatedly pressed him to modify or alter intelligence on key issues like Russian interference.
Schiff moving forward with the subpoena doesn't come as much of a surprise after he threatened in a Thursday letter to Maher that he would begin the compulsory process if Murphy's deposition could not begin on Friday, as scheduled.
Schiff also accused DHS of stonewalling his committee by blocking Murphy from accessing records related to his complaint and for failing to produce temporary security clearances for Murphy's lawyers in a timely fashion.
A DHS spokesman on Thursday defended the agency, saying that the vetting process for Murphy's lawyers takes time and that Schiff is not accommodating their process. They also argued that Murphy, who was recently moved to DHS's management division after leading I&A, did not have "need to know" of the classified records that he was requesting to back up his allegations.
While the deposition was originally slated for Monday, the committee postponed it to Friday, and now they are again looking to move it to next week as they continue to iron out negotiations with DHS. The new date is not yet clear.
Still, Democrats are eager to hear from Murphy.
Perhaps the most alarming allegation that they want to explore is Murphy's claim 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 any wrongdoing by Wolf, who has been formally nominated to serve as head of the agency.
And while the broad characterizations of the allegations were able to be shared publicly, most of the underlying information in the complaint is classified and cannot be included in an unclassified submission to Congress. Democrats are hoping to hear more details about Murphy's allegations in a classified setting.
Schiff's move to subpoena Maher, a long-term DHS employee who serves as DHS's principal deputy general counsel, comes after rising tensions between the committee and the agency.
A DHS spokesperson denied Schiff's claims of obstruction and suggested he was trying to rush their vetting process for his lawyers, which they argued would jeopardize security.
"As Chairman Schiff knows, his claims about DHS stonewalling his committee or obstructing the clearance process are completely false. DHS is doing no such thing and Chairman Schiff, despite his bombast, knows this," the spokesman said in a statement Friday.
The spokesman also argued that Murphy, who was recently moved to DHS's management division after leading I&A, did not have "need to know" of the classified records that he was requesting to back up his allegations.
"DHS cannot simply grant someone access to the nation's most highly sensitive material when its classification assumes that its disclosure would cause exceptionally grave damage to national security," the spokesman added, in response to Schiff's complaint that they are blocking Murphy from reviewing records.