The agency’s reluctance to contact the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which Johnson chairs, underscores the intelligence community’s doubts about the probe. And while it’s unlikely to stop Johnson from moving forward, it could give Democrats more support in their efforts to refute Trump and GOP’s claims that Biden is corrupt.
The episode started earlier this year, when Democrats raised concerns about Johnson’s investigation and the committee asked the FBI to inform senators. The FBI responded by saying that, according to a famous person, the CIA should also participate – a highly unusual question as the Homeland Security Committee rarely, if ever, deals with the CIA.
On May 14, Democratic Commission staff sent an email to the CIA conference affairs office, describing the scope of the requested briefing, according to sources describing the email to POLITICO. Republican assistants on the panel were copied on the email, which was not classified.
The commission followed up the following day, but the CIA did not respond. The CIA declined to comment on this story.
Democrats have long demanded so-called “defensive briefings” from intelligence agencies on possible efforts by the Russian government to promote disinformation and influence the 2020 presidential election. The CIA’s position is because Democratic Congressional leaders have also urged senior intelligence officials to disclose more information to the public about Russia’s latest interference campaign.
But getting a briefing for the committee was challenging. In addition to potential concerns about Johnson’s probe, the CIA is wary of providing a briefing that could reveal sensitive sources and methods to a panel other than the Senate or House intelligence committees, which are the direct monitoring agencies of service in Congress.
“There is a significant confidence gap there,” said a current National Security Officer. “At what point does someone change from an ‘ignorant’ participant to a sensible one?”
The official added that enough is known about certain bad actors that it should “be ruled out that their information should be considered legitimate investigative material,” referring to Ukrainians who have attempted to provide information to Johnson and other Trump allies on Capitol Hill.
Johnson has maintained that his investigation has nothing to do with the presidential election and that his committee is going through all the information it receives.
Austin Altenburg, a Johnson spokesman, said the criticism is an example of “the bias that exists within the federal bureaucracy, including, unfortunately, our intelligence agencies.” He also accused Democrats of asking for briefings “not tied to our work.”
“What the email doesn’t show is the intelligence briefings and documents the committee has already received and the many conversations in which the agencies told the Democrats they had no further information relevant to our investigation,” Altenburg added.
The May email to the CIA convention office outlined what senators of intelligence officials wanted to hear when the Biden investigation got underway. The committee has specifically requested information about foreigners who are making allegations against the Bidens, including whether they have ties to foreign governments or foreign security forces. Lawmakers also wanted to learn more about efforts to broaden their involvement in the 2020 elections.
Michigan Senator Gary Peters, the top Democrat for the Homeland Security Committee, reopened his request for such briefings in a letter to Johnson last month, begging Johnson to continue the matter if he continued his investigation. A Peters spokeswoman declined to comment on this story.
However, Johnson’s aides blamed Democrats for the delay. Last week, Johnson sent a letter to CIA director Gina Haspel asking for a slew of documents regarding the origin of the federal investigation into Russian interference in 2016, but the letter did not state that the CIA apparently refused to inform his committee.
Democrats first called for the briefings in March, when the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force informed commissioners about Andrii Telizhenko, a Ukrainian who bolstered disputed claims about coordination between Kiev and the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Johnson was supposed to sue Telizhenko, but he dropped plans for a committee vote on the matter after the briefing, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The day before, FBI director Christopher Wray had informed all senators in a secret setting about election security. POLITICO previously reported that Democratic senators are pressuring him about Telizhenko as part of Russia’s efforts to create disinformation in American politics, including whether Telizhenko was a willing partner in the Kremlin-backed campaign.
The briefing was described by participants as “combative” and “personal,” saying that Johnson was in direct contact with some of his opponents in the Senate while trying to defend his investigation.
More recently, as Johnson has emphasized, all senators have received briefings from the intelligence community on threats to the integrity of the vote in 2020. These briefings concern Telizhenko and Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian legislator who has sent information about the Bidens to allies. from Trump on Capitol Hill, including Johnson.
National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe and other National Security and Intelligence officials briefed Senators on election security and foreign influence on Monday, and they seemed to indicate that they intended to release more information about Russia’s intentions. to make.
The House received a similar briefing last week, in which William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, acknowledged that Russia is again trying to boost Trump’s reelection and denigrate his democratic opponent.
Evanina was chastised during that briefing by speaker Nancy Pelosi, who along with other Democrats urged the intelligence community to disclose more details of Russia’s ongoing interference efforts.
Pelosi told CNN on Monday morning that it “could be ignorant [Johnson’s] part – I don’t know what he knows. That is why we want the intelligence community to tell the American people what they know, without compromising sources and methods. ‘
“There is enough that they could tell the American people,” said Pelosi, “and also the US senators who may interact with some of these people.”