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Senate intelligence panel will get in-person election threat briefings, but not the full Senate, its chairman says

Senate Intelligence Committee acting chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said his committee will continue to get in-person briefings on election security. (Andrew Harnik/AFP/Getty Images)

The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee will continue to receive in-person briefings on election security, acting chairman Marco Rubio said this week.

Rubio’s comments follow the director of national intelligence informing lawmakers over the weekend that updates will now come “primarily” in written form.

“It’s my expectation we will — I’ve been told that we will” be briefed in person, Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a television interview with Spectrum News on Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for DNI John Ratcliffe had no comment Thursday, but did not dispute Rubio’s remarks.

Ratcliffe sent a letter to congressional leaders Saturday saying he was changing the briefing format because of what he described as “unauthorized disclosures” — or press leaks — from previous briefings, a charge he has not substantiated.

The abrupt move comes two months before a highly contested presidential election, one that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has warned that foreign governments — principally Russia — are seeking to influence.

Senior intelligence officials will no longer brief lawmakers in person on foreign threats to the 2020 election

Rubio, who spoke with Ratcliffe Saturday, told Spectrum that what Ratcliffe “meant to say by the letter” was that in-person briefings of the full House and Senate were suspended — not necessarily those to his committee.

“We are going to continue to schedule these briefings as we do on a regular basis throughout the year, and we expect them to come in and provide us the information and to answer our questions in person,” he said.

The ODNI’s designated election security briefer and top counterintelligence official, William Evanina, is scheduled to appear before Rubio’s panel this month, committee aides said.

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The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee so far has not received an assurance that its members will be briefed in person as well. Staff have written, emailed and informally asked the ODNI whether the panel will be getting such updates and has not received a reply, an aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss committee communications.

In a letter to Ratcliffe this week, panel Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), who chairs the Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, asked Ratcliffe to reinstate previously scheduled in-person briefings.

A briefing for the House Intelligence Committee was scheduled for Sept. 17. Another for all House members was tentatively set for Sept. 24 and 25, they wrote.

They pointed out that the ODNI “proactively offered” the sessions, which came after Evanina had done in-person briefings with lawmakers in July. The suggestion was that if the ODNI had concerns about leaks from those meetings, it would not have reached out to offer more briefings, the aide said.

“Written finished intelligence products are no substitute for intelligence briefings,” the Democrats wrote. “Only through regular and in-depth briefings can members of Congress . . . probe and scrutinize the underlying reporting and basis for intelligence assessments, learn what steps the United States is taking to thwart foreign interference and ensure that the intelligence judgments are not being influenced or skewed for political purposes.”

Unlike Rubio, House Intelligence Committee ranking Republican Devin Nunes (Calif.) was not troubled by the prospect of a loss of in-person briefings. “This is long overdue,”he told Fox News on Wednesday. “We gain nothing from these briefers. . . . The Democrats . . . play gotcha and then they run upstairs and they talk to their friends in the media.”

Briefing a Senate panel and not its House counterpart would weaken congressional oversight, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), said in an interview with The Washington Post’s David Ignatius.

“I don’t think you can cherry-pick oversight based on who you like and which party is in control,” Warner said. He said that this approach would vitiate the idea of checks and balances at the heart of congressional oversight.