21:03 GMT30 September 2020
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    The move met harsh criticism from the Democrats, with US Speaker of the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff denouncing the withdrawal as "a shocking abdication of its lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed".

    The director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, sent a letter to the House and the Senate, notifying that his office will no longer provide full in-person briefings on possible foreign interference in the upcoming presidential election. Instead, the office will switch to "written finished intelligence products" over concerns of information leaks.

    "I believe this approach helps ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the information ODNI provides the Congress in support of your oversight responsibilities on elections security, foreign malign influence, and election interference is not misunderstood nor politicized. It will also better protect our sources and methods and most sensitive intelligence from additional unauthorized disclosures or misuse", read the letter, posted by The Hill.

    The change comes as the office is concerned about "unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information following recent briefings", according to an ODNI official, cited by Fox News.

    "It will also better protect our sources and methods and most sensitive intelligence from additional unauthorized disclosures or misuse," Ratcliffe said in his letter.

    Ratcliffe outlined that the switch to written briefs will fit 17 statutory requirements laid out in the National Defense Authorization Act for this fiscal year.

    This comes amid an escalation of allegations that there is a threat of "foreign interference" in the upcoming US presidential election.

    Earlier in August, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, William Evanina, rolled out an "Election Threat Update for the American Public", claiming that three countries - Russia, China and Iran - are seeking to meddle with the electoral process.

    "Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer. We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran", according to Evanina's statement.

    Opposing Reactions by POTUS, Democrats

    President Donald Trump, commenting on the changes, said they were made so to prevent leaks.

    “Ratcliffe brought information into the committee and the information leaked. Whether it was 'Shifty Schiff' or anybody else... And he got tired of it and so he wants to do it in a different form. ... He wanted to make sure that it doesn't leak", Trump said during his speech in Texas.

    White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, according to the pool reports, echoed Trump's remarks, asserting that Senate intel members "disclosed information they shouldn't have disclosed" when talking to the press. The new form of briefings, Meadows said, is chosen to "make sure that there's proper tools for oversight and make sure they contain it in a way that doesn't jeopardize sources".

    The switch to written briefs met immediate backlash from Democrats. Pelosi, along with Schiff, released a statement slamming Ratcliffe's decision.

    "This is a shocking abdication of its lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed, and a betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy. This intelligence belongs to the American people, not the agencies which are its custodian. And the American people have both the right and the need to know that another nation, Russia, is trying to help decide who their president should be", the joint statement said. 
    © AP Photo / Andrew Harnik
    Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, right, accompanied by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, speaks about the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

    They also criticised suggestions that Russia, China and Iran are trying to interfere in the US presidential election, asserting instead that only the Kremlin is seeking to manipulate voting results.

    “Instead of transparency, the Trump administration, including President Trump, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, has already sought to promote a false narrative of equivalence among the interests of several nations in US elections and policy. The aims and actions of Russia, China and Iran are not the same.  Only one country – Russia – is actively undertaking a range of measures to undermine the presidential election and to secure the outcome that the Kremlin sees as best serving its interests", the joint statement said.

    Pelosi and Schiff finalized their statement with a threat to "consider the full range of tools available to the House to compel compliance".

    'Foreign Meddling' Narrative

    With weeks left before the 3 November presidential election, Democrats have been seen to be ramping up accusations of foreign countries allegedly trying to impact election results. The year 2016 also saw speculation that Russia had helped Trump to win the election, but today the accusations are faced by two other countries as well: Iran and China.

    While China and Iran are seen by Evanina as wanting Democratic candidate Joe Biden to be president, Russia is described as "using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden" in Trump's favor. No evidence was provided in the statement to back the allegations.

    Commenting on whether it would prefer Biden or Trump to win the election, Beijing said earlier in the month that it "has no intention or interest to get involved in American domestic affairs".

    As the election approaches, former US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, accused Trump for "giving blessing" to foreign interference.

    She suggested that a number of Trump's election-related moves would undermine the electoral process or allow it to be impacted by other countries, particularly outlining Russia. Rice slammed Trump for his recent comment that he might not abide by election results, his attempts to move the election date and his vehement opposition of mail-in voting that Trump has said is due to a fear of election fraud. 

    "The Russians ... have stepped up their efforts to interfere in our elections with, it seems, the blessing of Donald Trump", she claimed.
    National Security Advisor Susan Rice listens as US President Barack Obama talks with members of his cabinet during a meeting at the White House in Washington, DC
    © AFP 2020 / Jim WATSON
    National Security Advisor Susan Rice listens as US President Barack Obama talks with members of his cabinet during a meeting at the White House in Washington, DC

    The Trump administration, however, denied collusion with the Kremlin, referring to how "tough" on Russia it has been over alleged attempts to interfere with the elections.

    “What I’ve seen from the intelligence is they obviously tried to interfere with our 2016 election, and they continue to do that over the last four years,” Chad Wolf, an acting secretary for teh Department of Homeland Security, told Axios, noting that the Trump administration continues to impose sanctions and even "ran out" of individuals to sanction.

    Russia has denied all allegations of "meddling", both in 2016 and in 2020. Commenting on the allegation of "meddling", Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated that “we didn’t meddle, we aren’t meddling and we will not meddle in any elections". 

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov echoed the rejection, calling all speculation about Kremlin interference in the US domestic affairs "baseless.

    Back when Trump stunned the world with his victory in the 2016 election, he faced accusations of collusion with the Kremlin that were not backed with any credible proof. The accusations were later dismissed by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who conducted an investigation into the allegations and found nothing to support the speculation.

    Related:

    Russian FM Spokeswoman Zakharova Mocks US for Offering 'Reward' for Election Meddling Reports
    Trump Has Given ‘Blessing’ to Russian Meddling in 2020 Election, Former US Envoy to UN Rice Claims
    US Has ‘Run Out’ of Russians to Sanction Over ‘2016 Election Meddling’, DHS Chief Says
    John Ratcliffe Sworn in as New Director of National Intelligence
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