The chairman of the House’s Intelligence Committee is demanding a reckoning from the country’s spy chief for why lawmakers weren’t told about division in the intelligence community over Russian hacking allegations that appeared in recent news reports.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, asking him to explain why lawmakers weren’t told about an apparent disconnect between the CIA and FBI analyses of the purpose behind Russia’s alleged meddling in U.S. elections before reports on the topic appeared in the press. A CIA assessment concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump win, as detailed in a Washington Post report citing various officials, including those present at briefings for lawmakers on the topic.
Nunes took issue with the DNI over some of the details from The Post’s reports, accusing the CIA of changing its tune about Russia’s role in hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman that were publicly released by WikiLeaks. Nunes pointed out that Clapper himself had told his committee during an open November hearing that the intelligence community “lacked strong evidence connecting Russian government cyber-attacks and WikiLeaks disclosures.”
“The claims in these articles also appear to conflict with recent IC statements to the public and to this Committee characterizing alleged Russian activities,” Nunes wrote.
He asked Clapper to brief the committee by Friday about the CIA and FBI’s latest intelligence of what role Russia played in hacks related to the election, including a coordinated, written assessment of the intelligence community’s current position, and update them on the president’s plans to review allegations of Russian hacking.
The committee “has an urgent need to accurately understand the current IC assessment of alleged Russian cyberactivities relating to the election, and any disagreements among IC components,” Nunes wrote.
He also asked that by Jan. 13, Clapper’s office do a standards review to verify the integrity of the intelligence community’s assessments related to Russian hacking, and determine whether classified information was revealed in media reports about the allegations.
“I am deeply concerned that these press reports may contain unauthorized disclosure of both classified IC information and the contents of closed intelligence committee proceedings,” he wrote.
Nunes’ letter comes as many lawmakers are calling for a more dedicated examination of Russia and the role it is accused of playing in cyberthreats related to the election, as well as U.S. interests across the world.
Trump has consistently downplayed the idea of a Russia connection, arguing that it could have been China or “some guy in his home in New Jersey” behind the hacks of the DNC and Clinton campaign director John Podesta’s emails. In a tweet, he suggested that people were trying to “play the Russia/CIA card.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rushed to defend the intelligence community during a news conference Monday, saying he had “the highest confidence in the intelligence community and especially the Central Intelligence Agency.” The Post’s report on the CIA’s assessment that Russia hacked the election to help Trump’s chances detailed how McConnell cast doubt on those finding when he was briefed about them.
McConnell added Monday that he had “every confidence” that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) would “review the matter in a responsible way.”
In a statement released before his letter on Monday, Nunes said that he does “not see any benefit in opening further investigations” into the matter of Russia’s alleged election-related hacking, “which would duplicate current committee oversight efforts and Intelligence Community inquiries.”