House Intelligence Committee Releases Whistleblower Reprisal Complaint Alleging Serious Misconduct By Senior Trump Administration Officials to Politicize, Manipulate and Censor Intelligence to Benefit Trump
Washington, September 9, 2020
Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, announced that, as part of its ongoing investigation into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), the Committee received a whistleblower reprisal complaint alleging serious wrongdoing by officials at the Department and reprisal against former I&A Acting Under Secretary Brian Murphy for making protected disclosures. Mr. Murphy filed the whistleblower reprisal complaint on September 8, 2020 with the DHS Office of Inspector General.
After receiving the complaint, Chairman Schiff sent a letter today requesting that Mr. Murphy appear for a deposition pursuant to a subpoena on Monday, September 21, 2020.
The whistleblower reprisal complaint depicts a sustained and disturbing pattern of misconduct by senior Trump Administration officials within the White House and DHS relating to the activities of DHS’s I&A—an element of the U.S. Intelligence Community which Mr. Murphy led from May until August of this year, before he was reassigned to DHS’s Management Directorate, and where he previously served as Principal Deputy Under Secretary beginning in March 2018. The complaint alleges repeated violations of law and regulations, abuses of authority, attempted censorship of intelligence analysis, and improper administration of an intelligence program related to Russian efforts to influence the U.S. elections.
After sending the letter with the complaint, Chairman Schiff released the following statement:
“The whistleblower retaliation complaint filed by former Acting Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Brian Murphy outlines grave and disturbing allegations that senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials improperly sought to politicize, manipulate, and censor intelligence in order to benefit President Trump politically. This puts our nation and its security at grave risk.
“Mr. Murphy’s allegations are serious — from senior officials suppressing intelligence reports on Russia’s election interference and making false statements to Congress about terrorism threats at our southern border, to modifying intelligence assessments to match the President’s rhetoric on Antifa and minimizing the threat posed by white supremacists. We have requested Mr. Murphy’s testimony before the Committee, pursuant to subpoena if necessary, alongside other already scheduled interviews with other DHS officials.
“But this complaint also puts into stark relief how dangerous and harmful it is for American voters that the Trump Administration has decided to end briefings to Congress about foreign interference in our upcoming election. Last month, in a bid to prevent informing the American people and its elected representatives about Russian efforts to help President Trump and hurt Joe Biden, the Trump Administration announced that it would cease briefing Congress in person, and rely on written products alone. But if written products are being altered for political reasons, or worse withheld entirely, how can the American people trust that this Administration will inform voters on how foreign powers are trying to influence them, or where the threats really come from, and protect our national security— particularly when it contradicts the President’s preferred narrative or personal political interests? In short, they can’t, and that’s dangerous.
“We will get to the bottom of this, expose any and all misconduct or corruption to the American people, and put a stop to the politicization of intelligence.”
On August 3, 2020, the Committee launched an investigation into I&A’s expanded intelligence activities, including its actions in Portland and involvement in the Administration’s response to protests nationwide, and requested a series of documents and raw intelligence reports. On August 19, 2020, following a limited production of documents by DHS, the Committee officially requested additional documents, raw intelligence reports and finished products, and requested interviews with senior officials. The Department has produced additional documents to the Committee since these initial steps and begun to schedule interviews with relevant officials, and the Committee expects the Department to continue cooperating with its investigation.
As part of its letter to Mr. Murphy, the Committee released the full complaint here. The Committee was provided by Mr. Murphy a supplemental clarification, which can be found here. The text of the letter can be found below:
Mr. Brian Murphy
Mark S. Zaid, P.C.
Dear Mr. Zaid:
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (“Committee”) requests the testimony of your client, Mr. Brian Murphy, in response to the whistleblower reprisal complaint filed on his behalf on September 8, 2020 with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).
The whistleblower reprisal complaint depicts a sustained and disturbing pattern of misconduct by senior Trump Administration officials within the White House and DHS, and regarding the activities of DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (“I&A”)—an element of the U.S. Intelligence Community which Mr. Murphy led from May of this year until August, when he was reassigned to DHS’s Management Directorate, and where he previously served as Principal Deputy Under Secretary beginning in March 2018. The complaint alleges repeated violations of law and regulations, abuses of authority, attempted censorship of intelligence analysis, and improper administration of an intelligence program related to Russian efforts to influence the U.S. elections.
Such allegations fall squarely within the unique oversight and legislative jurisdiction of the Committee and relate directly to the Committee’s ongoing investigation and oversight of activities undertaken by I&A, including during Mr. Murphy’s tenure. The Committee therefore requests Mr. Murphy’s appearance at 10:00 AM on Monday, September 21, 2020 for a deposition pursuant to subpoena.
The Committee, in particular, seeks Mr. Murphy’s testimony regarding specific events and protected disclosures described in the attached complaint, including:
The complaint asserts that, in mid-May 2020, and while purporting to serve as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Mr. Chad Wolf “instructed Mr. Murphy to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran. Mr. Wolf stated that these instructions specifically originated from White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. Mr. Murphy informed Mr. Wolf he would not comply with these instructions, as doing so would put the country in substantial and specific danger.”
In addition, the complaint states that DHS’s Chief of Staff directed Mr. Murphy on July 7, 2020, to “cease any dissemination of an intelligence notification regarding Russian disinformation efforts until Mr. Murphy had spoken with Mr. Wolf.” Per the complaint, Mr. Wolf told Mr. Murphy the next day, on July 8, 2020, that “the intelligence notification should be ‘held’ because it ‘made the President look bad.’ Mr. Murphy objected, stating that it was
improper to hold a vetted intelligence product for reasons for political embarrassment. In response, Mr. Wolf took steps to exclude Mr. Murphy from relevant future meetings on the subject. The draft product was eventually completed without Mr. Murphy’s involvement and was made public in a leak to the media by unknown individuals. It is Mr. Murphy’s assessment that the analysis in the leaked ‘completed draft’ attempts to place the actions of Russia on par with those of Iran and China in a manner that is misleading and inconsistent with the actual intelligence data.”
According to the complaint, the details of the protected disclosures outlined by Mr. Murphy’s complaint involve classified information pertaining to “improper administration of an intelligence program” and abuse of authority. The complaint states that Mr. Murphy is “more than amenable to making a classified presentation on this information – whether verbally or in writing” – under appropriate circumstances. The Committee will expect Mr. Murphy to testify to this and any other classified matters during the deposition.
The complaint specifically alleges that “Mr. Cuccinelli stated that Mr. Murphy needed to specifically modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups.”
In early July 2020, according to the complaint, “Mr. Wolf relayed the concerns previously outlined by Mr. Cuccinelli regarding the sections on White Supremacy and Russian influence. Mr. Wolf asked for a copy of the HTA so it could be reviewed by policy officials, and so that information regarding the ongoing unrest in Portland, Oregon, could be added into the HTA. Mr. Wolf asked Mr. Murphy if he would accept his edits. Mr. Murphy responded that he would not concur with any edits that altered the underlying intelligence in the HTA, as any such action would constitute an abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program.” The complaint further alleges that, on September 3, 2020, Mr. Murphy “learned the new draft was provided to Mr. Wolf, who had ordered the HTA to be redesigned with the policy office completing the revisions. It is Mr. Murphy’s assessment that the final version of the HTA will more closely resemble a policy document with references to ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups than an intelligence document as originally formulated by DHS I&A.”
The Committee has a longstanding oversight interest in this matter. In early January 2019, as one of the Committee’s first acts during the 116th Congress, the Committee requested any and all intelligence that would corroborate statements by Trump Administration officials about the scale of the purported “terrorist” threat at the southern border, which White House and DHS officials claimed in justifying declaring a national emergency. More than two months later, the Committee received an incomplete response from DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — although the information they did provide, if accurate, contradicted the assertions that such a dire terrorist threat existed.
The complaint also alleges that Mr. Cuccinelli sought to modify in December 2019 I&A intelligence reports regarding conditions in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to “outlin[e] high levels of corruption, violence, and poor economic conditions in the three respective countries,” and that Mr. Cuccinelli “expressed frustration with the intelligence reports, and he accused unknown “deep state intelligence analysts” of compiling the intelligence information to undermine President Donald J. Trump’s (“President Trump”) policy objectives with respect to asylum.”
According to the complaint, “[n]otwithstanding Mr. Murphy’s response that the intelligence reports’ assessments were consistent with past assessments made for several years, Mr. Cuccinelli ordered Messrs. Murphy and [then-Under Secretary for I&A David] Glawe to identify the names of the “deep state” individuals who compiled the intelligence reports and to either fire or reassign them immediately. After the meeting [in December 2019], Mr. Murphy informed Mr. Glawe that Mr. Cuccinelli’s instructions were illegal, as well as constituted an abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program. Mr. Murphy also informed Mr. Glawe he would not comply with the instruction to fire or reassign the alleged “deep state” officials based on nothing more than perceived political differences, and that Mr. Murphy would report the matter to DHS OIG if improper actions were taken to do so.”
Should you have any questions in advance of Mr. Murphy’s deposition, please contact Committee staff at (202) 225-7690. The Committee will follow up regarding compulsory process and the necessary arrangements for this deposition.