The nation’s spy chief offered to appear before the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee to discuss the intelligence community’s worldwide threats assessment but suggested that the question-and-answer session be held behind closed doors to allow for classified discussions.
John Ratcliffe, who has overseen the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies since taking over for former Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in May, made the offer to appear for an early August hearing in a Wednesday letter obtained by the Washington Examiner sent to Chairman Adam Schiff and GOP ranking member Devin Nunes. In the terms he laid out, public remarks by the congressmen, Ratcliffe himself, and by the heads of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and other intelligence agencies, would be followed by a “closed session” because then “a thorough exchange of classified questions and answers between the panel and Committee members could be conducted to ensure members receive the threat information they need.”
This is a similar offer to the one Ratcliffe made to the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. Ratcliffe was previously a Republican congressman from Texas who served on the House Intelligence Committee.
An ODNI official told the Washington Examiner that Ratcliffe believes it’s important to share threat information with the U.S. public in an unclassified setting through public opening remarks but that the classified information should be discussed behind closed doors. The official noted that the director of national intelligence and the spy office have held dozens of engagements with members of Congress in the past few months related to global threats.
Ratcliffe’s request for a mostly closed session to discuss classified information is not without precedent. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sent a letter in 2013 to the Senate Intelligence Committee that said that “given … the challenges associated with discussing inherently classified matters at the unclassified level, I feel strongly that we should refrain from having open global threat assessment hearings.”
Acting Chairman Marco Rubio and Vice Chairman Mark Warner seemed cool to Ratcliffe’s proposal on Tuesday, saying they “will continue to work with DNI Ratcliffe and are hopeful that the Committee will hold a hearing on this important topic soon.”
In his opening statement during the Senate Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing in May, Ratcliffe pledged to provide unvarnished updates to lawmakers. “You have my commitment to deliver timely, accurate, and objective intelligence and to speak truth to power, be that with Congress or within the administration,” he said.
Ratcliffe’s correspondence to Congress about setting up world threat hearings came after congressional Democrats revealed this week that they had sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, claiming, “Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign” related to the 2020 election.
“Gang of Eight (and others impacted) were already briefed. Weeks ago. This request is a CYA,” Grenell tweeted in response.
When he testified in May, Ratcliffe said, “My views are Russia meddled or interfered with active measures in 2016, they interfered in 2018, and they will attempt to do so in 2020.”
Last week, Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina released freshly declassified documents that cast doubt on the veracity of British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier and undercut the theory of Trump-Russia collusion.