Washington, DC, October 2, 2020 – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, delivered an opening statement during an open hearing regarding politicization of intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with Joseph B. Maher, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis (I&A).
The opening statement, as delivered, is below:
The Department of Homeland Security, and today’s witness—Mr. Joseph Maher, who leads DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis— left the Committee no choice but to issue a subpoena on Tuesday for his appearance at this hearing today. The Department has persistently slow-walked security clearance requests from attorneys needed to represent their client, Mr. Brian Murphy — a lawful whistleblower and the former acting head of a I&A, an Intelligence Community element — in proceedings before the Committee. The Committee repeatedly offered to DHS that it would withdraw this subpoena if the Department authorized the attorney security clearances in time for often rescheduled Mr. Murphy’s deposition today. Unfortunately, DHS refused to do so.
On August 3—amid public reporting of American citizens being snatched off the streets of Portland by law enforcement officials from the Department of Homeland Security—this Committee launched an investigation into serious allegations that DHS’s Intelligence and Analysis office—or I&A—an element of our nation’s Intelligence Community—may also have played a part in the apparent abuses documented in Portland.
The specter of domestic surveillance activities by the nation’s intelligence apparatus which is supposed to be focused outside the country, has set off alarm bells.
Soon after the Committee began its review, additional serious and credible allegations emerged that senior officials at DHS had engaged in efforts to politicize intelligence assessments and reports produced by I&A—and so the Committee expanded its investigation to examine whether DHS’s intelligence unit had withheld intelligence reporting about Russian interference in our elections, and sought to downplay the threat posed by white supremacist violence.
Our investigation is still in its early stages, but already the Trump Administration has engaged in the now-familiar strategy of obstruction. Despite those efforts, over the past two months, a deeply disturbing picture has come into sharper focus. Time and again, DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis faced pressure by the Trump Administration to deploy its resources in a way to politically benefit the President of the United States and his reelection campaign, at the expense of our national security.
Specifically, the Committee has information that:
- Trump Administration officials sought to influence the production of election threat intelligence by elevating and emphasizing activity by China and Iran, despite acute, ongoing interference operations by Russia. The Committee has also learned that DHS leaders sought to influence the production of classified and unclassified intelligence assessments related to foreign threats to our election by encouraging I&A to report more on China, even though the Intelligence Community’s public statements indicate that only Russia is engaged in active measures to denigrate one candidate and support another—and sway the outcome of the Presidential election. Treating these three actors of differing intent and capability—Russia, China, and Iran—as equal threats to our election creates a false equivalency. It dilutes the fact that the most significant threat to our election is, in fact, from Russia, which is aggressively seeking to denigrate Vice President Biden and boost President Trump. These politicized changes did nothing to serve our national security, but would serve to avoid embarrassing the President with a focus on the dangerous facts of Russia’s interference on behalf of his campaign.
- Similarly, DHS officials have sought to modify the unclassified Homeland Threat Assessment, which has yet to be released to this day. Specifically, the Committee has learned that senior DHS officials have pressed for the Assessment to elevate the threat to our election posed by China and Iran, which would have the effect of misleading the American public but again bolster efforts by the Administration to downplay the severity of the most significant and active foreign election threat coming from Russia.
- The Committee has also confirmed that DHS’s I&A sent personnel to Portland at the height of DHS’s response to protests in the city, and that I&A—as an element of the Intelligence Community—was asked to engage in activity that raises profound civil liberties concerns. Specifically, the Committee has learned that I&A participated in questioning protestors who were detained by other DHS officers and issued intelligence reports on reporters. We have learned that the Federal Protective Service—another component of DHS—seized phones from protestors and asked I&A—a member of the Intelligence Community—to extract data from those phones. Thankfully, that request appears not to have been ultimately fulfilled. I&A’s presence and activities in Portland were also in service of the President’s preferred “law and order” narrative for which he deployed the federal government in response to domestic protests in an effort to benefit himself politically.
The Committee is also examining allegations that DHS officials sought to modify assessments related to domestic security threats, in service of President Trump’s preferred narrative that “antifa” and so-called “left-wing anarchists” are the most important domestic threat. This is despite evidence to the contrary and testimony just last week by FBI Director Chris Wray that white supremacist violence now makes up a significant share of domestic terrorism. And this is in the wake of the President’s refusal to fully and forcefully condemn white supremacists.
It is a very dark hour when some of the leadership in our intelligence agencies is commandeered into the service of a President’s desired political narrative, rather than speaking truth to power.
This isn’t the first time the Intelligence Community has been used to serve political interests of the person in the Oval Office. Forty-five years ago, the Church and Pike Committees in Congress investigated the abuses of another corrupt Administration—abuses that included not only secret attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, but also efforts by our Intelligence Community to spy on Americans exercising their constitutional rights by monitoring their political activities. 1975 seems like a long time ago, but some of those abuses seem all too familiar today.
The Church and Pike Committees produced a series of recommendations, including to create standing permanent congressional committees that would act as a check on the Intelligence Community. These committees are a direct outgrowth of Richard Nixon’s abuse of the Intelligence Community. Our job today, and every day on this Committee, is to ensure that those abuses do not happen again. That is why we have called you here to testify, Mr. Maher.
Joseph Maher is the current Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary, Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security.
Mr. Maher is here pursuant to a subpoena issued by the Committee earlier this week. The Committee did not wish to subpoena Mr. Maher, but it became necessary when DHS continued to slow-walk the security clearance for Mr. Murphy’s attorney. Mr. Maher, the Committee always expects hearing witnesses to answer its Members’ questions—but today, the issuance of the subpoena compels you to answer them, fully and completely.
In opening our investigation on August 3, the Committee requested a series of documents from the Department, including finished intelligence and raw intelligence reports produced by I&A. On August 19, we requested additional documents, as well as testimony from senior DHS I&A officials. On September 9, the Committee released a whistleblower complaint filed by your immediate predecessor, the former head of DHS’s Intelligence and Analysis office, Brian Murphy, who alleged serious misconduct related to our ongoing investigation.
Following substantial back and forth, the Department agreed to make available a number of witnesses for transcribed interviews and to provide some, only some, documents that we have requested. However, the Department is still withholding the vast majority of documents relevant to this Committee’s ongoing investigation and oversight of the Intelligence Community.
Moreover, we are dismayed that the Department has slow-walked the reauthorization of a security clearance to Mr. Murphy’s attorney, thereby denying him the right to have counsel present for a deposition where we could learn additional details of his classified allegations—allegations that the Committee has a duty to independently investigate. Some of these allegations may prove accurate, others may not, but we have a duty to find out, given their seriousness. And given that some of these allegations involve a threat to the upcoming election, we need to find out now, and without delay.
Because some of Mr. Murphy’s allegations are classified—in particular those regarding the politicization of intelligence related to Russian threats to our upcoming election—it will be necessary for you, Mr. Maher, to testify at least in part in closed session. Mr. Maher is also here today to explain in open session the Department’s obstructive efforts, and to testify to matters under investigation by the Committee. We will hold a classified session with Mr. Maher following this open hearing so he may further testify about the allegations of misconduct that we are investigating.
Finally, Mr. Maher, we may ask you broader questions in today’s open hearing about the nature of the threats facing our country. That is because you represent an element of the Intelligence Community, whose responsibility it is to keep Congress fully and currently informed of the threats to our nation, and because the Director of National Intelligence has refused to appear publicly before this Committee or to the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss these threats—responsibilities his predecessors respected, on an annual basis. Instead, Director Ratcliffe has chosen to selectively declassify and publish unverified material which he admits may be fabricated, undertaking a domestic political errand for the president before an election only weeks away, an errand that even John Durham seems unwilling to perform. The American people deserve better.
Mr. Maher, we expect you to level with the American people today and speak truth to power.