WASHINGTON — Democrats on Tuesday expressed exasperation following a morning White House briefing on the intelligence about potential Russian bounties, saying that they weren’t briefed by the appropriate officials and they received no new information.
At a news conference back on Capitol Hill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that they should have been briefed by people who work within the U.S. intelligence community. Hoyer said CIA Director Gina Haspel herself should have been the one to explain the intelligence.
“The right people to give the briefing really were not in the room. We need to hear from the heads of the intelligence agencies about how they assess the allegations that have been made publicly. What can they tell us about the truth or falsity of these allegations? What can they tell us about steps they are undertaking or have undertaken to vet any information that they may have?” Schiff told reporters.
The administration officials who briefed Democrats included White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; John Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence; Robert O’Brien, White House national security adviser and several other White House officials. Meadows led the briefing and Ratcliffe and O’Brien would sometimes chime in, a Democratic aide told NBC News.
While the group of top House Democrats described the briefing as unsatisfactory and Hoyer said “We did not receive any new substantive information,” he made clear that what he did hear reaffirmed the latest reports.
“The president called this a hoax publicly,” Hoyer said. “Nothing in the briefing that we have just received led me to believe it is a hoax. There may be different judgments as to the level of credibility, but there was no assertion that the information we had was a hoax.”
Democrats are focused on finding out, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Hoyer said.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the Trump administration told GOP lawmakers at a similar White House briefing Monday that the intelligence on the bounties might have been included at some point in the President's Daily Brief but not conveyed to President Donald Trump in a formal threat briefing because it wasn't yet "actionable.”
Schiff said that there's no excuse that the president didn’t learn of the intelligence directly, saying “It's not a justification to say that the president should have read whatever materials he has. If he doesn't read, he doesn't read. They should know that by now."
The Democrats said that the briefing they received Tuesday was “not a substitute” for a full briefing for all House members, though Hoyer said they received no assurances Tuesday that there would be one.
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said at a GOP leadership news conference Tuesday, that she remains concerned about the reports of Russian bounties and anticipates additional briefings.
“I want to be absolutely clear that Americas adversaries should know and they should have no doubt that any targeting of US forces by Russians, by anyone else, will face a very swift and deadly response,” she added.