House Intelligence Committee Press Forward on Investigation of Politicization of Intelligence At DHS and I&A, Requesting New Documents and Witnesses and Threatening Compulsion
Washington, September 18, 2020
Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to Joseph B. Maher, the senior official performing the duties of the Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis, advising the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) that the Committee was rejecting the Department’s attempt to limit the scope of its investigation in a letter leaked to the media. Last week, the Committee informed the Department that it had expanded its investigation into the DHS and I&A’s expanded intelligence activities, including its actions in Portland and involvement in the Administration’s response to protests nationwide, and a wider range of reported abuses, deficiencies, and problems, including allegations of improper politicization of intelligence and political interference in I&A’s mission and activities.
In the letter, Chairman Schiff made clear that the Department must produce all documents related to all areas the Committee is investigating, including foreign interference in U.S. elections, domestic threats related to white supremacism, antifa, and “anarchist groups,” and migration and asylum. The Committee also made clear that the Department and I&A must produce the same documents requested by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and any other congressional committee. Schiff noted that the key document and information requests made so far by the Committee, some requests submitted as early as July, “remain unmet,” and threatened initiating compulsory process. Schiff also addressed misleading and spurious allegations made by the Department in regards to the upcoming deposition with Mr. Brian Murphy. Finally, Schiff also informed the Department that it would schedule transcribed interviews with additional officials.
In the letter, Schiff wrote:
The Committee has a duty to the American people to exercise its oversight and investigative authority to determine the facts, hold officials involved in misconduct accountable, and legislate reforms to ensure abuses do not persist and are prevented in the future. The Committee was established for this very purpose and would be derelict not to press forward with its investigation. Going forward, the Committee expects witnesses to answer all questions to the best of their knowledge, regardless of DHS’ effort to artificially limit the Committee’s scope of inquiry.
… The Department and I&A have no legitimate basis for withholding such documents and information, including to conceal evidence of abuse or impropriety, and must satisfy the Committee’s pending requests for production fully and without any further unwarranted delay. The Committee stands ready to consider compulsory process, as needed.
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.
On September 9, the Committee released 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, and was provided by Mr. Murphy a supplemental clarification, which can be found here. 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 Committee conducted its first scheduled interview on September 10 and has conducted a number of other interviews since, and the Department has produced additional, although limited, documents to the Committee. The Committee expects the Department to continue cooperating with its investigation.
The letter can be found here, and the full text can be found below:
Mr. Joseph B. Maher
Principal Deputy General Counsel and Senior Official
Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis
Office of Intelligence and Analysis
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Mr. Maher:
As the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS” or “Department”) Office of Intelligence and Analysis (“I&A”)—like the heads of all other departments, agencies, and U.S. government entities involved in intelligence activities—you are required by statute to keep the congressional intelligence committees fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities. You are equally obligated to furnish to the committees, upon request, any information or material within your custody and control concerning such activities. Consistent with these requirements, I appreciated the pledge you made during our September 9, 2020, meeting, which DHS personnel subsequently reaffirmed, that I&A would cooperate with the Committee’s broadened investigation.
Subsequent actions by the Department, including its September 14 letter to the Committee, submitted on your behalf, contravene this legal obligation and renege on the commitment made during our meeting. This sharp reversal is unacceptable, and raises troubling questions about why DHS and I&A are obstructing the Committee’s lawful oversight and duly authorized investigation and about what information is being concealed as a result. It is also deeply disappointing, as you had led me to believe you would not engage in the kind of obstructive behavior that has come to characterize so many during this administration.
As you know, the Committee was compelled to expand the scope of its investigation after learning of serious allegations of improper politicization of intelligence and political interference in I&A’s mission and activities. A whistleblower reprisal complaint filed on behalf of your predecessor, former Acting Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Brian Murphy, details a sustained and disturbing pattern of misconduct by senior Trump Administration officials within the White House and DHS. The complaint alleges repeated violations of both statutes 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. Certain aspects of the complaint, moreover, appear consistent with public reports and information gathered by the Committee as part of its oversight work.
As noted in the Committee’s September 9 letter requesting Mr. Murphy’s deposition, such allegations—individually and as part of a broader pattern of improper political interference—fall squarely within the unique oversight and legislative jurisdiction of the Committee and, thus, are legitimate and necessary subjects of investigation. The Committee, moreover, has the necessary jurisdiction to investigate matters raised in a whistleblower complaint filed by a member of the Intelligence Community.
The Committee, therefore, has a duty to independently scrutinize and substantiate allegations of such a serious nature by the former head of an Intelligence Community element. Just as the Committee cannot simply accept, without undertaking its own inquiry, representations by Mr. Murphy, it cannot accept at face value Mr. Chad Wolf’s denials, including as represented in the Department’s carefully worded assertion—phrased in the present tense—that the Department “stands by the Acting Secretary’s statements from last week that any accusations that DHS is improperly holding or delaying intelligence for political considerations is false” (emphasis added). Even if the Department were no longer engaging in the reported misconduct—something we can likewise not assume—it is vital that the Committee ascertain any wrongdoing, past or present, and act to prevent it from occurring again.
The Committee has the constitutional authority and institutional responsibility to exercise its oversight and investigative authority to determine the facts and, as necessary, develop legislative reforms to ensure abuses do not persist and are prevented in the future. The Committee was established for this very purpose and would be derelict not to press forward with its investigation. Going forward, the Committee expects witnesses to answer all questions to the best of their knowledge, regardless of DHS’ effort to artificially limit the Committee’s scope of inquiry.
In this respect, the Committee has received the Department’s latest offer to make available three additional witnesses—of the dozen the Committee has requested—for “briefings.” As with the testimony of other I&A officials to date, the Committee has an obligation to ensure a clear investigative record and will transmit separately the dates for these witnesses’ in-person transcribed interviews.
As part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation and pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 3092, the Committee also requests that DHS and I&A produce by Wednesday, September 23, 2020, all documents or communications within the possession, custody, or control of the Department or I&A— regardless of form, classification, and whether generated or obtained by the Department or I&A—that refer or relate to the factual allegations advanced in the complaint, including but not limited to (1) foreign interference in U.S. elections; (2) domestic threats related to white supremacism, antifa, and “anarchist groups”; and (3) migration and asylum.
The production shall include any materials the Department or I&A have produced or intend to produce to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (“SSCI”), in response to SSCI’s September 10 letter. The Department also shall produce all materials responsive to any and all future requests submitted to the executive branch by SSCI or by any other congressional committee, in connection with the complaint or otherwise related to the Committee’s investigation into I&A’s activities.
In addition, the Committee stresses that key documents and other information already requested from DHS and I&A—some requests submitted as early as July—remain unmet. Notwithstanding the selective and incomplete document production thus far, the Committee has reason to believe that DHS and I&A are withholding responsive records related to I&A’s activities in Portland and in support of DHS’ response to nationwide protests.
The Department and I&A have no legitimate basis for withholding such documents and information and must satisfy the Committee’s pending requests for production fully and without any further unwarranted delay. The Committee stands ready to consider compulsory process, as needed.
Finally, the Committee is aware that the Department informed Mr. Murphy’s attorneys yesterday—September 17, 2020—that it has denied Mr. Murphy’s request to access classified documents in preparation for his Committee deposition. Chad Mizelle, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the General Counsel, falsely represented, despite clear and repeated prior communication to the contrary by the Committee and Mr. Murphy’s attorneys, that Mr. Murphy “wants access for the purpose of delivering documents to HPSCI.” This is an untrue and spurious claim. The Committee has made clear that it expects DHS and I&A—not Mr. Murphy—to produce responsive records, including classified documents, and any effort by DHS to prevent a witness from being able to prepare adequately for testimony before the Committee will be viewed as obstruction of this investigation. DHS should reverse its position immediately and grant Mr. Murphy access to these classified records prior to his deposition.
Should you have any questions, please contact the Committee’s Majority Staff at (202) 225-7690.