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Byron York: As election nears, another battle over intelligence, Russia

By Byron York

A new furor has erupted over Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe’s decision to give some members of Congress written updates on foreign election interference instead of in-person briefings.

In the past, some Hill Democrats have spun and leaked information from the old oral briefings, especially ones given to all members instead of just the intelligence committees. That has prompted Ratcliffe to seek to more carefully control what information is given to Congress in regular intelligence updates.

“I believe this approach helps ensure [that intelligence on] elections security, foreign malign influence and election interference is not misunderstood nor politicized,” Ratcliffe wrote on Aug. 28. “It will also better protect our sources and methods and most sensitive intelligence from additional unauthorized disclosures or misuse.”

The short version of Ratcliffe’s message to lawmakers: You’re distorting what we say and leaking anything you want, even if it is classified. We’re going to make that harder to do.

Democrats and many in the media immediately went ballistic, in a way that has been seen many, many times before in the Trump presidency. “The director of national intelligence is providing cover for Putin,” wrote the Washington Post editorial board. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff called it a “shocking abdication of [DNI’s] lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed.”

But what about Congress’s lawful responsibility to protect classified information? Pelosi and Schiff had less to say about that. Insiders aren’t surprised. “It’s pretty clear that [the DNI] had evidence of Schiff and the Democrats leaking,” said one Hill source. “It’s been a constant problem. The last time was just the final straw.”

That’s a reference to late July, when top Democrats, worried about a possible Senate investigation into Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and business ties to Ukraine, asked for “a full congressional briefing before the August recess.”

They said they were “gravely concerned, in particular, that Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign.” When they got the briefing, the leaks quickly began, so much so that the intelligence community released a public statement to clarify what had been told to Congress — that China, Russia and Iran are all seeking to influence the results of the 2020 U.S. election. (China and Iran were said to prefer a Biden victory, while Russia prefers Trump.)

That was just one episode. House Intelligence Committee Democrats pulled basically the same thing in February, setting off a series of leaks about alleged Russian intentions that caught administration officials unawares.

Ratcliffe and other intelligence officials were appalled by the wholesale leaking. In an interview with Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo, Ratcliffe explained why he acted. “We’re not going to do a repeat of what happened a month ago, when I did more than what was required, at the request of Congress, to brief not just the oversight committees, but every member of Congress,” Ratcliffe said. “When I did that, I said my only condition is that you treat this information with the respect that it deserves, and you keep it private. And yet, within minutes of one of those briefings ending, a number of members of Congress went to a number of different publications and leaked classified information, again, for political purposes.”

It’s not a surprise that Ratcliffe finally took action. Democrats have been playing the Russia card for years now, first to try to prevent Trump’s election, then to try to undermine Trump’s presidency, then to try to end Trump’s presidency and now to try to prevent Trump’s reelection. Top Democrats are going back to the same old source — Russia, Russia, Russia. And that is what this latest intelligence fight is all about.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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