Leadership

Intel panel nixes briefing on alleged Russian interference in US election after resistance

Catherine Herridge reports from Washington, D.C.

 

The House Intelligence Committee abruptly canceled a briefing set for Thursday on alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election, after the CIA declined to provide a briefer for the session, Fox News is told.

Amid concerns about reports that conflict with details previously provided to the committee, Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had requested a closed, classified briefing Thursday for committee Republican and Democratic members from the FBI, CIA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and National Security Agency.

But Fox News is told the CIA declined citing its focus on the full review requested by President Obama, and the other agencies did not respond to the committee’s request, which is unusual given the panel is the most-senior committee with jurisdiction.

"It is unacceptable that the Intelligence Community directors would not fulfill the House Intelligence Committee’s request to be briefed tomorrow on the cyber-attacks that occurred during the presidential campaign," Nunes said in a statement. "The Committee is deeply concerned that intransigence in sharing intelligence with Congress can enable the manipulation of intelligence for political purposes."

Nunes also had given the agencies until Friday to address conflicts in the record.

In response to Fox News' initial report, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which oversees all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, issued a statement claiming that lawmakers from both parties have received "extensive, detailed classified and unclassified briefings ... since last summer and have continued to do so after Election Day."

"Last week, the President ordered a full Intelligence Community review of foreign efforts to influence recent Presidential elections – from 2008 to present," the statement added. "Once the review is complete in the coming weeks, the Intelligence Community stands ready to brief Congress—and will make those findings available to the public consistent with protecting intelligence sources and methods. We will not offer any comment until the review is complete."

A Washington Post report Friday, citing anonymous sources, said the CIA determined Russia interfered in the election with the purpose of helping Trump’s campaign. But, as Nunes first noted in a letter Monday, DNI James Clapper told their committee on Nov. 17 that the intelligence community lacked strong evidence connecting Russia to the WikiLeaks disclosures.

Nunes wrote, “According to new press reports, this is no longer the CIA’s position … I was dismayed that we did not learn earlier, from you directly about the reported conflicting assessments and the CIA’s reported revision of information previously conveyed to this Committee.”

Separately, Fox News has learned additional details about the “full review” President Obama ordered from his intelligence agencies regarding Russian interference.

The review is being led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and is a multi-agency effort. Investigators plan to take existing intelligence and reconstruct what happened.

Fox News is told one focus is on whether there is new intelligence that substantiates analysis the interference was designed to ensure a Trump victory, or whether a review of the existing intelligence with “fresh eyes” leads to new conclusions.

Some lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, have backed calls for a separate congressional investigation, voicing concern that Obama’s intelligence agencies might not be able to conduct a thorough review before he leaves office.

The White House has backed calls for a congressional review as well, while joining Democrats in reviving criticism of the Trump campaign’s alleged Russia connections.

Given statements from the White House, Fox News is told there is considerable pressure on the intelligence community to declassify as much of the findings as possible before Jan. 20, when Trump is set to take the oath of office.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.