By Editorial Board,
AFTER THE intelligence community briefed members of Congress in late July about threats to the upcoming election, Democrats expressed alarm about what they had learned — and about the fact that the information had not been shared with the American public. “The warning lights are flashing red. America’s elections are under attack,” wrote Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in a Post op-ed, without disclosing any specifics.
The Democrats’ pressure resulted in the issuance of a carefully worded Aug. 7 statement by William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, saying that Russia was once again seeking to interfere in a presidential election, using “a range of measures” to “undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party.”
Mr. Blumenthal said that statement “only hints at the threats,” which, he added, “are chilling.” He and other Democrats called for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify what is known about Russia’s activities so voters can be aware of them. Instead, over the weekend the blind loyalist whom Mr. Trump installed this year as director of national intelligence, former Republican congressman John Ratcliffe, dispatched a letter to Congress announcing his intention to curtail briefings between now and the election.
Mr. Ratcliffe said that “to ensure clarity and consistency,” ODNI would meet its legal obligation to report to Congress “through written finished intelligence products” rather than live briefings, which allow legislators to ask follow-up questions. While he later told Fox News that congressional intelligence committees would still be briefed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff said the ODNI had canceled live briefings it had planned for mid-September.
Mr. Ratcliffe and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the change in policy was a reaction to leaks by members of Congress. But the only “leak” was the simple fact that the administration was withholding critical information about Russia’s interference — which, of course, is intended to help President Trump win reelection.
In effect, Mr. Ratcliffe is providing cover for Vladimir Putin’s influence operation. If Americans are not aware of precisely what Moscow is doing to sow misinformation, they are more likely to be swayed by it. Congress could subpoena Mr. Ratcliffe to publicly testify about the ongoing operation, and it should. But the Trump administration demonstrated during the impeachment proceedings that it will defy subpoenas. Mr. Trump, who has spoken to Mr. Putin frequently by phone this year — including at least three times since May — showed in 2016 that he will do whatever he can to facilitate and exploit Russia’s interference. Some might call that collusion.
Read more: Jennifer Rubin: The five dumbest Republican arguments for Trump Max Boot: A damning new article reveals how Trump enables Russian election interference Dana Milbank: Bill Barr’s election meddling is a total riot Michael Gerson: Trump sees votes for him as permission for further national betrayals Jennifer Rubin: Just imagine the answers Trump will give in the debates