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Trump official releases unverified Russian intel on Clinton previously rejected by Senate panel

Trump official releases unverified Russian intel on Clinton previously rejected by Senate panel
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Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeTrump alumni launch America First Policy Institute Sunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Former Trump officials eye bids for political office MORE declassified a letter Tuesday that included unverified Russian intelligence about 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' Hillary Clinton: There must be a 'global reckoning' with disinformation Pelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights MORE, which was previously dismissed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, a congressional source confirmed to The Hill.

Ratcliffe is coming under fire for releasing the unverified intelligence, which claims Clinton had approved a plan to “stir up a scandal” against Trump by trying to tie him to Russia and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinBiden 'confident' meeting with Putin will take place soon Blinken: US stands with Ukraine in face of Russian aggression Russia keeping 80K troops at border amid NATO exercise, US officials say MORE.

Asked about the allegations in the letter declassified by Ratcliffe and released by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLindsey Graham: GOP can't 'move forward without President Trump' House to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-S.C.), the source added that the Senate Intelligence Committee had been “aware of this intel for years and dismissed it.”

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Democrats blasted Ratcliffe for making public what they describe as disinformation being spread by one of the U.S.’s political foes. The intelligence chief denied in a statement that it was Russian disinformation.

Ratcliffe in the letter to Graham noted that the U.S. intelligence community does not know the accuracy of the information or the “extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.” Ratcliffe did not release additional information to support the topline claim being made by Russia.

He also does not mention that the U.S. intelligence community overwhelmingly concluded that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election by spreading disinformation on social media platforms and through cyberattacks. Those efforts, the intelligence community found, were aimed at helping then-candidate Donald Trump and hurting Clinton.

To Democrats, it is a political ploy where Trump’s top intelligence official is throwing red meat to the president’s allies in the Senate on the same day as the first presidential debate, one day before former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien Comey'Fox News Sunday' to mark 25 years on air Showtime developing limited series about Jan. 6 Capitol riot Wray says FBI not systemically racist MORE testifies before the Senate, and almost a month before Election Day.

The disclosure that the Senate Intelligence Committee had previously rejected the intelligence was first reported by Politico.

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“It's very disturbing to me — thirty-five days before an election, the Director of National Intelligence would release unverified Russian rumint,” said Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFacebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one Schumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands Senate Intel vows to 'get to the bottom' of 'Havana syndrome' attacks MORE (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“Ratcliffe’s decision to release Russian intelligence he concedes may be false is an obvious domestic political errand with an election weeks away,” tweeted House Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump backs Stefanik to replace Cheney Gender politics hound GOP in Cheney drama Senate Intel vows to 'get to the bottom' of 'Havana syndrome' attacks MORE (D-Calif.).

Republicans, meanwhile, say this information allows them to review whether the FBI was doing its job properly. Comey, who was ousted in 2017, is set to appear before Graham’s committee Wednesday, and Republicans have vowed to grill him about the FBI’s probe.

When a reporter noted DNI can’t verify the information, Graham responded that the document showed that the CIA asked the FBI to look at this allegation. Ratcliffe’s disclosure noted that U.S. intelligence officials made an investigative referral to top members of the FBI.

“That's the whole point,” Graham responded. “They looked at all things Trump, did they look at this?”

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Graham is months into a broad investigation reviewing “Crossfire Hurricane,” the name for the FBI’s investigation into Moscow’s 2016 election interference and possible Kremlin ties to Trump campaign; the subsequent probe by former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE and the use of wiretaps authorized through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Ratcliffe in a statement said the intelligence community has not assessed this information as Russian disinformation.

"To be clear, this is not Russian disinformation and has not been assessed as such by the Intelligence Community. I’ll be briefing Congress on the sensitive sources and methods by which it was obtained in the coming days,” Ratcliffe added.

Ratcliffe’s comment, however, added fuel to the fire. Schiff slammed Ratcliffe, his former colleague who previously served in the House, for his “inexcusable” decision to release such information that Schiff says could compromise sensitive sources and methods by being publicly released.

The blow-up over this declassification also comes as the Trump administration is seeking to shift away from the narrative that Russia is again seeking to help Trump by denigrating his opponent, Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit On The Money: Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report | GOP targets jobless aid after lackluster April gain MORE, despite intelligence officials warning that sought efforts by the Kremlin is happening again.

William Evanina, the top U.S. counterintelligence official, publicly shared a series of foreign threats facing the 2020 presidential election last month, including a warning that Russia is using a range of measures to "primarily denigrate" Biden.