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Illinois Congressman On Recent Changes To Election Security Briefings


You have leakers on the committee. That's the reason President Trump gave yesterday for the decision to end congressional briefings on foreign efforts to interfere in the November elections. His director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, notified lawmakers of that decision to stop those in-person briefings. Ratcliffe says they'll be given in writing now. Raja Krishnamoorthi is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He's a Democrat from Illinois, and he joins us now.

Congressman, good morning. Thank you for being with us.

RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI: Hey. Good morning, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So the director of national intelligence said in a letter to both your committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee that the suspension of in-person briefings would help ensure that the information provided in Congress is, quote, "not misunderstood or politicized." And as I said, the president was more blunt about it. What's your reaction?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think it's outrageous. You know, in an August 7 press release from the ODNI, the director of national intelligence, basically, they made it very clear that Russia is currently interfering with our elections. And it's the only country that's actively doing so. The fact that they would, you know, prevent further in-person briefings means that they want us not to be able to question career public servants about the intelligence that backs up this assessment of Russian interference, press for additional information about it and, quite frankly, ask, how can we do more to combat it?

ELLIOTT: I'm wondering, have you had discussions with your Republican counterparts on the committee? Are they OK with this change?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I don't know. I haven't talked to them about it. The news broke yesterday. By the way, I think that's a tell. Whenever something is released on Friday, Saturday by this administration, they don't want it to get a lot of scrutiny. And that's exactly what happened this time. But I'm sure that we're going to have further discussions in the days ahead.

ELLIOTT: You know, I'm curious. Historically, have there been times when written intelligence briefings were enough? And why do you think that would be insufficient?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, you know, the written briefings are a start, but they are usually carefully edited and wordsmithed and legally parsed such that, you know, you don't really know, for instance, you know, what are the assumptions that are backing up the conclusions? You can't assess the tone or the urgency of the issue without talking to the career public servants. And, you know, they usually just call balls and strikes. They don't make legal or political conclusions normally. And I think that that's why they're so - those in-person briefings are so important.

ELLIOTT: What do you make of the timing of the announcement other than the drop over the weekend? You know, it's just over two months until the - till the election.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yeah, I think that the president really doesn't want us to scrutinize this threat from Russia. And I think that it's 66 days or 65 days before the election. I can tell you that based on the correspondence and the calls and the emails that we're getting from our constituents, the public is incredibly worried that the Russians are going to interfere in this election even more than they did in 2016. And without getting into the classified briefings that we received, we know that the Russians are undertaking this in a different manner. And they're doing it using the lessons they learned from 2016. And that's why we have to update our efforts to combat them.

ELLIOTT: Is there a legitimate concern here, though, that information could be leaked or used for political purposes?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: That's always a concern, but this is the standard response from the White House when they really don't have anything more to back it up, you know? It - if they actually had the goods on anybody, I'm sure they would have gone after them a long time ago, but they don't. And, really, what's going on here is they're trying to create a chilling effect within the intelligence community. They don't want people to tell the truth. They want to muzzle them. You know, when Shelby Pierson back in - early this - earlier this year first, you know, talked about the issue of Russian interference, she was sidelined. Now Bill Evanina is being sidelined. When DNI Coats told the truth before he was forced to resign. And I think that that's really what's going on here. The Trump administration does not want the intelligence community to speak of the Russian threat. And it just invites the suspicion that, once again, they're trying to invite that foreign interference.

ELLIOTT: Thank you for speaking with us.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, thank you.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.