Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell sent a scathing letter to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) in response to the congressman’s accusatory letter rebuking his management changes to the intelligence community, including the firing of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.
"I must begin by voicing my surprise that your 4-pg letter said nothing about the historic appointment of the first female Director of the National Counterterrorism Center
"Instead, you expressed concerns regarding the retirement of the former male Director"
— Elizabeth Harrington (@LizRNC) April 21, 2020
In his April 7 letter, Schiff had complained that Grenell made staff reductions at the National Counterterrorism Center without consulting Congress, suggesting the moves were “inappropriately influenced by political considerations.”
“The Committee is reviewing the circumstances of Mr. Atkinson’s dismissal, including whether his termination was intended to curb any ongoing investigations or reviews being undertaken by his office,” Schiff wrote.
The House intel chairman also demanded that Grenell provide a written certification to his committee that he would not interfere with the work of future officials and that he certify he has never interfered in the work of Thomas Monheim, now the acting inspector general of the intelligence community.
On March 10, the House and Senate each received briefings from intelligence officials about potential election interference in 2020.
Schiff accused Grenell of allowing his staff to interfere with the briefings and asked him to keep Congress updated on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on election security.
“President Trump did not nominate you for confirmation as permanent DNI, and it would be inappropriate for you to pursue any additional leadership, organizational, or staffing changes to ODNI during your temporary tenure,” Schiff wrote.
In his sharply-worded response, Grenell rebuffed Schiff’s allegations and accused him of trying change the intel committee’s mandate.
“I must disagree with your proposals to divest the DNI of managerial competence and personnel decision-making authority and to replace your committee’s mandate for Intelligence Community (IC) oversight with a mandate for IC administration,” Grenell wrote in his two-page letter.
“Going forward, I encourage you to think of the relationship between your committee and the IC as that between the legislative and executive branches of government, rather than that between a hedge fund and a distressed asset, as your letter suggests,” he added.
“Career IC officials have conducted four studies in the last two years calling for reforms at the ODNI, and the career officials are eager to implement the recommendations. It is my duty to listen to these ODNI career employees who have ideas on how to improve the work we do for the American people,” Grenell wrote.
Grenell went on to defend the career intelligence officers at the ODNI, whom Schiff accused of politicizing intelligence:
I am compelled to defend these career officers from unsubstantiated indictments of their motivations and judgment. Many are offended by the accusations that they did not share unvarnished assessments. If you share with me the reports you believe provide evidence for these claims, I can promise you that I will review them with the seriousness such accusations demand.
In an apparent dig at Schiff’s well-known penchant for leaking, Grenell suggested in his letter that the intelligence officials who briefed lawmakers on March 10, left behind an unclassified fact sheet in order to protect themselves from out-of-context media leaks and distortions.
“We must continue to provide the American public this information to enable them to decipher the information that appears in the media,” he said.
The UNCLASSIFIED fact sheets also protect career intelligence briefers from any subsequent media reporting which might not otherwise do justice to the quality and integrity of their work.
Lastly, I strongly agree with your statement of a bipartisan legislative commitment to the IC. I would hope to see this commitment reflected on the signature line of your future letters.
In a statement Tuesday, Schiff blasted Grenell’s letter as insufficient and unresponsive.
“In his letter, Acting Director Grenell did not respond in any way to our oversight requests regarding the decision to fire the IC IG, sudden staffing changes at the NCTC, and his pursuit of structural and personnel changes at the ODNI without the approval of Congress,” Schiff said in a statement. “And the Acting Director failed to respond to important questions about whether [DNI inspector general Michael Atkinson] was investigating matters that may go uninvestigated as a result of his firing by Trump. The simple fact he was not willing to respond to a reasonable request from his agency’s oversight committee raises new basis for our concerns, particularly given this Administration’s history of covering up blatant misconduct.”
“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence owes us, and the Senate as well, answers to these questions,” Schiff continued, adding. “We remain ready to work with ODNI to ensure compliance with our oversight requests, consistent with its legal obligation to keep the Committee fully and currently informed of its activities.”
Schiff has reason to be alarmed by the recent staff changes at ODNI. Until recently, he seemed to have ODNI officials wrapped around his finger.
In a letter to then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, for instance, Schiff ordered that HPSCI witness transcripts from the Russia investigation not be shared with Trump or White House lawyers even though some of the transcripts contained exculpatory evidence for President Trump’s team.
“Under no circumstances shall ODNI, or any other element of the Intelligence Community (IC), share any HPSCI transcripts with the White House, President Trump or any persons associated with the White House or the President,” Schiff wrote in a March 26, 2019 letter to Coats, obtained by John Solomon’s Just the News.
“Such transcripts remain the sole property of HPSCI, and were transmitted to ODNI for the limited purpose of enabling a classification review by IC elements and the Department of Justice,” Schiff added in the letter.
U.S. intelligence officials said Schiff’s request made it impossible for them to declassify 10 of the transcripts, mostly of current and former White House and National Security Council witnesses, because White House lawyers would have had to review them for what is known as “White House equities” and presidential privileges.
But 43 of the transcripts were declassified and cleared for public release and given to Schiff’s team, but they have never been made public despite the committee’s vote to do so, officials said.
One senior official said the 43 transcripts were provided to Schiff’s team some time ago, and the 10 remain in limbo. Asked how long House Intelligence Democrats have had the declassified transcripts, the official said: “You’ll have to ask Mr. Schiff.”
To paraphrase Schiff, the simple fact that he is “not willing to respond” to “a reasonable request” “raises new basis for our concerns,” particularly given his “history of covering up blatant misconduct.”