DNI will no longer brief Congress in person on election security over leak concerns

The move comes weeks before the presidential election and as President Donald Trump continues to downplay the severity of foreign interference.
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Voters cast their ballots at the Kent County Public Library in Maryland's early voting on Oct. 25, 2018.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Ken Dilanian, Josh Lederman and Lauren Egan

WASHINGTON — The office of the director of national intelligence will no longer offer in-person briefings to congressional intelligence committees about election security and foreign election interference, according to a congressional official briefed on the matter.

The decision by the Trump administration to halt in-person briefings on foreign election interference stemmed in part from concerns over leaks, an agency official told NBC News.

Although the committees will still have access to classified written intelligence reports, the elimination of in-person briefings means committee members will not be able to question officials about the nuances and meanings behind the written product.

The unprecedented move to deny in-person briefings on a particular subject comes just weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called the decision "shameful," saying in a statement that it "demonstrates that the Trump Administration is engaged in a politicized effort to withhold election-related information."

"We expect the Administration and Intelligence Community to keep us fully and accurately informed, and resume the briefings. If they are unwilling to, we will consider the full range of tools available to the House to compel compliance," they added, noting that the director of national intelligence had asked to address the House in September. The briefing has been canceled.

The director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, sent a letter informing the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees of the change, dated Aug. 28, according to a copy obtained by NBC News.

"I believe this approach helps ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the information ODNI provides the Congress in support of your oversight responsibilities on elections security, foreign malign influence, and election interference is not misunderstood nor politicized. It will also better protect our sources and methods and most sensitive intelligence from additional unauthorized disclosures or misuse," Ratcliffe wrote.

An agency official said the office was "concerned about unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information following recent briefings."

During President Donald Trump's trip to Louisiana and Texas to survey damage from Hurricane Laura, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said that "the last time they gave briefings, a few members went out and talked to the press, disclosed information that they shouldn't have disclosed."

The agency released information to the public this summer announcing that the Russians were once again trying to help Trump win his election by sabotaging his opponent. Trump has downplayed Russia's efforts to interfere in the election. A New York Times Magazine investigation found that classified intelligence reports have been softened to fit Trump's narrative.