Trump official releases unverified Russian intel on Clinton previously rejected by Senate panel
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a letter Tuesday that included unverified Russian intelligence about 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, 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 Putin.
Asked about the allegations in the letter declassified by Ratcliffe and released by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the source added that the Senate Intelligence Committee had been “aware of this intel for years and dismissed it.”
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 Comey 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.
“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 Warner (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 Schiff (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?”
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 Mueller 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 Biden, 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.