Ratcliffe sends watchdog referral and begins declassification on classified House GOP report on Russian meddling

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The nation’s spy chief has sent the intelligence community’s watchdog an investigative referral related to a 2018 Republican-led House Intelligence Committee report that critiqued some of the tradecraft in the Obama-era Intelligence Community Assessment of 2017 on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe sent a letter to acting Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Thomas Monheim asking him to review an investigative referral first sent to the CIA’s watchdog by then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes after the committee led by the California Republican released its Russian meddling report in 2018.

Ratcliffe, who has overseen the nation’s 17 spy agencies since May, said he had also begun the declassification process for the secretive intelligence underlying the Nunes referral.

“Pursuant to the request of Ranking Member Nunes, and consistent with my obligation to transmit allegations of wrongdoing to your office for review, I am attaching the enclosed Oversight Investigation and Referral regarding concerns with the completion of the Intelligence Community Assessment on Russia’s Influence Campaign Targeting the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election published on 5 January 207 for your review,” Ratcliffe told the intelligence community watchdog in a letter obtained by the Washington Examiner. “This referral was first provided to the Central Intelligence Agency Inspector General in December 2018 by the then-majority members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Since then, the office of the Director of National Intelligence has received numerous requests from senior oversight officials for the Intelligence Community IG to review whether all portions of the aforementioned ICA adhered to proper analytic tradecraft.”

Ratcliffe added: “Concurrently, I have requested that the document undergo a formal declassification review in response to a request from Ranking Member Nunes on 13 September 2020. I am committed to facilitating transparency that serves the public interest while balancing the imperative for protecting sources and methods. I look forward to receiving the results of your review and any recommendations you have for corrective action.”

The January 2017 assessment from the CIA, the NSA, and the FBI concluded with “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016” and that Russia worked to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate former Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency” and “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

Adm. Mike Rogers of the NSA diverged from CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey on one key aspect, expressing only “moderate confidence” rather than “high confidence” that Putin “aspired to help” Trump’s election chances by “discrediting” Clinton “and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

Rogers talked about his view on the intelligence community assessment during testimony before the Senate in May 2017, noting that the level of sourcing was a factor in his judgment.

The report from the Republicans leading the House Intelligence Committee in 2018 concluded that “judgments on Putin’s strategic intentions did not … employ proper analytic tradecraft.” The report said GOP investigators “identified significant intelligence tradecraft failings that undermine confidence in the ICA judgments regarding Putin’s strategic objectives.”

The Democrats on the panel, led by then-ranking member Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, released their own report, saying that they “found no evidence that calls into question the quality and reliability of the ICA’s … assessment about President Putin’s desire to help candidate Trump.”

A senior intelligence official familiar with the classified contents of the Nunes report told the Washington Examiner on Thursday: “There are a number of things in the referral that the ICIG will likely be interested in, particularly Obama-Biden era political appointees who overruled career intelligence officials who raised concerns about some things being included in the ICA. Ratcliffe made the right call sending this to the ICIG.”

Ratcliffe, a former Republican congressman from Texas, sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee back in June, noting that he “made a commitment to review the intelligence underlying the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment regarding Russian activities and intentions in the 2016 U.S. elections” during his Senate confirmation. Ratcliffe said he had requested an unredacted copy of the House GOP report “in order to facilitate my review.” The Washington Examiner can confirm that Ratcliffe traveled to Langley this summer to review the classified Russia report, which is kept in a lockbox in a vault at CIA headquarters and which some intelligence officials have taken to describing as a “turducken.”

In Brennan’s new memoir, Undaunted, he revealed that he overruled two senior managers from the CIA mission center responsible for Russia “who questioned the confidence level on the judgment in the assessment related to Russia favoring Mr. Trump’s candidacy.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report in April defending the 2017 assessment, saying it “presents a coherent and well-constructed intelligence basis for the case of unprecedented Russian interference.”

Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst and former chief of staff of the National Security Council, wrote in a Fox News op-ed in April that House Intelligence staff told him that Brennan “suppressed facts or analysis that showed why it was not in Russia’s interests to support Trump and why Putin stood to benefit from Hillary Clinton’s election.” These claims have not been confirmed.

Fiona Hill, the Trump administration’s former Russia expert on the National Security Council, testified to Congress last year during the impeachment investigation that the Russians targeted both Trump and Clinton in 2016 to ensure whoever won would be damaged when taking office. Hill said the Russians targeted both “to delegitimize our entire presidency.”

Robert Mueller’s 2019 special counsel report concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” but it “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”

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