We learned last week that the Department of Homeland Security may be curtailing and even suppressing intelligence reports because "they make the president look bad." Brian Murphy, the former head of the intelligence branch at DHS, alleged in a whistleblower complaint that Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of DHS, told him not to disseminate a report about a Russian effort to cast doubts on Joe Biden's mental health. In the same complaint, Murphy claims that the No. 2 official at DHS separately ordered him to modify an intelligence assessment to make the threat of white supremacy "appear less severe" and to include information about left-wing groups and antifa.
We learned last week that the Department of Homeland Security may be curtailing and even suppressing intelligence reports because "they make the president look bad."
If intelligence is suppressed or manipulated with just a few weeks to go before a presidential election, American voters, and our country's state and local law enforcement agencies that rely on DHS intelligence, could be flying blind into a rapidly developing storm.
Want more articles like this? Follow THINK on Instagram to get updates on the week's most important political analysis
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who processed a previous whistleblower complaint from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman that led to President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, received Murphy's whistleblower complaint and promised to investigate it.
As with Vindman, Trump's supporters jumped to the president's defense. The response was quick, and it felt coordinated. Fox News host Sean Hannity tweeted, "Another Schiff Show?" Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, posted, "Schiff's got a new 'whistleblower.'"
But this doesn't have anything to do with Schiff. There's a reason so many whistleblowers have come forward during the Trump administration: They can't stomach the lies, waste, fraud and abuse they are witnessing, and they can't get any satisfaction from within their agencies' chains of command. Trump has removed or replaced inspectors general at key agencies in an apparent effort to stymie federal employees trying to do the right thing for America. In just six weeks, Trump fired at least five IGs, sending a clear message. In the previous 20 years, only one IG had ever been removed by a president.
So while the number of federal employees who feel compelled to become whistleblowers is symbolic of a greater problem, the president's desire to suppress and even alter the truth is equally telling. People lie and distort because it benefits them. And when you examine Brian Murphy's complaint, you can see why the Trump administration wants to suppress the specific intelligence he was reported to be about to disseminate.
By all credible accounts, the president was the beneficiary of Russian attempts to boost his chances during the 2016 campaign. Most notably, the recent report by the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee found that the Russian government "engaged in an aggressive, multi-faceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election." Furthermore, the report found that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered at least some of the attacks that sought to damage Hillary Clinton's campaign. Obviously, it's in Trump's best interests to try to suppress this truth and to distort the reality that the Russians continue their efforts to aide his re-election. And those are the kinds of truths that Murphy says he was trying to report in his nixed draft intelligence assessments.
Similarly, Trump is compelled to distance himself from the reality that the hate-based white supremacy movement, so closely aligned with some of his worst rhetoric, poses a growing threat to our domestic security. FBI Director Christopher Wray publicly advised that the threat of racist violence is on the same priority level as international terrorism. But the young shooter in the tragic Walmart mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, adopted the language of Trump in his manifesto railing against an "invasion" from Mexico.
The president doesn't want the public to know the severity of the threat because he doesn't want to have to take responsibility for enabling and even encouraging it. As Susan Milligan wrote recently for U.S. News: "For much of America, 'white power' is a racist slur. For President Donald Trump, it's the description of his base." It's no wonder that Trump's lackeys at DHS ordered Murphy to alter his reporting about this violent threat. No president wants to fall into the trap of guilt by association.
Ultimately, DHS' suppression of important and accurate intelligence isn't occurring in a vacuum, nor is it an anomaly. The office of the director of national intelligence recently informed Congress that lawmakers would no longer receive in-person briefings about threats to the election.
This move to suspend an essential dialogue with our elected representatives was another signal that objective reality runs counter to, and threatens, Trump's desired narrative. The truth can be elusive, especially when the president of the United States doesn't want us to find it. But the truth is attainable, and essential. As we try to pick our next leader, we must base our decision on fact, not fiction, on data, not delusion. With more people like Brian Murphy, we just might succeed.