Schiff’s move came in response to the news, first reported Friday by The Washington Post, that White House officials barred the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research from submitting written testimony last week to his panel warning that human-caused climate change is “possibly catastrophic.”
Officials from the White House’s Office of Legislative Affairs, Office of Management and Budget and National Security Council initially tried to cut more than a third of the testimony, which cited federal government findings on how burning fossil fuels had driven recent climate change. After State officials refused to make the changes, the legislative affairs office blocked the agency from entering the document into the record, but allowed bureau senior analyst Rod Schoonover to testify Wednesday before the committee.
In a letter to State Assistant Secretary Ellen McCarthy, who oversees the bureau, Schiff said members of his panel wanted to learn more details about the interactions between White House aides and the State Department. He also sent a similar letter to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which had sent its own analyst to Wednesday’s hearing along with the Office of Naval Intelligence.
“If these reports are accurate, I applaud your Bureau for standing by its analysts and the integrity of its analysts and the integrity of their work in the face of political pressure, but the Committee remains gravely concerned about the events surrounding Dr. Schoonover’s withheld written testimony,” he wrote McCarthy.
The letter demands that the department submit testimony from McCarthy or another senior official addressing the basis for the written testimony and communications with White House officials about the review process it underwent in the run-up to the hearing, along with documents detailing those communications and the edits suggested by the White House. It requests that the documents be delivered by June 21.
Neither the White House nor the State Department could be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.
The document prepared by the bureau, which was obtained by The Post, outlines the implications of what the United States and other nations face if the world does not seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly in the near future. It outlines the kind of tipping points that could be triggered at any time, including the massive release of carbon now frozen in the earth and the sudden collapse of coral reefs and entire insect populations.
“Absent extensive mitigating factors or events, we see few plausible future scenarios where significant — possibly catastrophic — harm does not arise from the compounded effects of climate change,” the document said.
In a statement, Schiff noted that the Bureau of Intelligence and Research has stood out for its independence in the past. In 2002, when President George W. Bush commissioned an intelligence assessment of Iraq’s weapons capability in the run-up to his administration’s invasion of Iraq, the bureau disputed the idea that Saddam Hussein had an ongoing secret nuclear weapons program.
“The role of the Intelligence Community, and those who work at its seventeen agencies, is to tell truth to power, irrespective of prevailing political winds,” the congressman said. “Reports that the White House sought to muzzle objective, science-based testimony on the urgent climate crisis and its potential national security impacts is deeply troubling and requires immediate investigation to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Separately on Tuesday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) entered the bureau’s written testimony into the congressional record during a House Budget Committee hearing on the economic impacts of climate change.
A White House official told The Post on Friday that the administration routinely weighs in on testimony prepared by different agencies, and chose to withhold the document from Congress because it did not “jibe” with President Trump’s views on the issue. Trump has repeatedly questioned the scientific consensus that human activities have driven recent climate change.
In an interview Monday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that while he had not read the intelligence agency’s assessment, the administration had every right to decide whether it should go to Congress.
“I didn’t read the proposed testimony … so I don’t know what was in the testimony. I’ve seen a couple of news articles about it,” Wheeler said. “But every White House has the right and exercises the right to make sure that all congressional testimony conforms to what the administration, as a whole, believes and is advocating.”