US intelligence chief John Ratcliffe on Sunday defended his move to end in-person election security briefings to Congress, blaming a “pandemic” of leaks from lawmakers.
The Director of National Intelligence wrote to top lawmakers from both parties in the House and Senate intelligence committees on Friday explaining the change.
The announcement sparked accusations from senior Democrats that the administration was covering up Russian help for President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.
Ratcliffe voiced frustration over leaks from a counterintelligence briefing to Congress a month ago informing lawmakers that China, Russia and Iran were all seeking to interfere.
“And yet, within minutes of that… a number of members of Congress went to a number of different publications and leaked classified information,” Ratcliffe told Fox News.
He said the leakers aimed to “create a narrative that simply isn’t true, that somehow Russia is a greater national security threat than China.”
“I’m going to continue to keep Congress informed. But we have had a pandemic of information being leaked out of the intelligence community. And I’m going to take the measures to make sure that that stops,” he added.
The move comes two months ahead of the general election, with Trump playing down the threat of foreign interference, which he says is being politicized by the Democrats.
“I don’t mean to minimize Russia — they are a serious national security threat — but day in, day out the threats that we face from China are significantly greater,” Ratcliffe said.
“And anyone that sees intelligence knows that, and anyone who says otherwise is just politicizing intelligence for their own narrative.”
The briefings will still be given in writing but House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said lawmakers were effectively being stripped of the ability to question what they were being told.
“That doesn’t make any sense unless the goal is not to allow members of Congress, the representatives of the American people, to ask questions,” the senior Democrat told CNN.
“It is an illogical inconsistency to say ‘We’re going to put it on paper so it can’t’ leak rather than speak to the Congress — that doesn’t make any sense,” he told CNN.
He accused the White House of pushing a false narrative that Russian election interference to help Trump was “no different than other countries are doing.”
The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee earlier in August released the most detailed report to date on Russian interference in 2016.
It accused the Trump campaign of welcoming Moscow’s help, and set out new information on contacts between Russian intelligence officials and Trump’s inner circle.