In reversal, intelligence panels to get election briefings

FILE – In this Dec. 9, 2019, file photo, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, during the House impeachment inquiry hearings in Washington. The Trump administration has ended all election security briefings to Congress just weeks before Americans cast their ballots for president. The top U.S. intelligence official, National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe, told lawmakers Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 that they would only be receiving written updates about election security to help ensure the information “is not misunderstood nor politicized.” (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has agreed to provide in-person briefings on threats to the November election to key members of Congress, backing down from a decision last month to provide that information only in writing.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe has agreed to provide briefings to the Senate and House intelligence committees, according to the heads of those panels. The move comes after significant pushback from Democrats and some Republicans who said the briefings were more important than ever as the 2020 presidential election approaches and Russia signals it will try to interfere again as it did four years ago.

Acting Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, said in a joint statement Wednesday that Ratcliffe had reaffirmed that the panel will receive “briefings, including in-person, on all oversight topics.”

Rubio told reporters that he expects a briefing next week on election security, though he said he wasn’t sure of the timing. A person familiar with the briefing said Ratcliffe’s office had accepted an invitation to brief the panel behind closed doors. The person discussed the meeting on condition of anonymity because it has not been publicly announced.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff also said in a statement that Ratcliffe’s office had on Wednesday committed to the briefings “after extensive public criticism.” Schiff said the panel was working to confirm a date and time.

Still, Schiff said, “these briefings for the intelligence committees must not obviate the need to keep all Members and the American people appropriately and accurately informed about the active threats to the November election.”

Ratcliffe said in August that most briefings would be in writing instead of live, citing what he said were leaks out of “all member” meetings held earlier this year. Democrats said that would prevent members from asking followup questions and allow the administration to limit what information it allows.

Shortly after Rubio and Warner issued their statement, Ratcliffe claimed his position remained “unchanged.”

“I will continue to provide congressional leadership and the intelligence oversight committees appropriate updates to keep Congress fully and currently informed,” Ratcliffe said in his own statement. “In order to protect sources and methods, the IC will not provide all-member briefings, but we will work to provide appropriate updates primarily through written finished intelligence products.”

Ratcliffe met with congressional leadership and the heads of the intelligence committees earlier on Wednesday — a group called the “Gang of Eight” that receives the highest levels of intelligence. He said in the statement that he had shared with them his proposal on how the intelligence community will share election updates in the future.

Over the summer, the nation’s counterintelligence chief, William Evanina, issued a statement sayingU.S. intelligence officials believe that Russia is using various methods to denigrate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and that people linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin are boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection bid.

U.S. officials also believe China does not want Trump to win a second term and has accelerated its criticism of the White House, Evanina wrote.

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Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Eric Tucker and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

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