Top U.S. intelligence officials went to Congress on Tuesday to offer an annual assessment of global threats. But their testimony revealed an issue at home: lingering disagreements between the White House and the intelligence community.
Speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and other high-ranking officials disputed President Donald Trump’s accounting of multiple national-security related issues.
Here are three key areas where the answers given by the intelligence chiefs diverged from those from the White House.
The timeline of the Rob Porter controversy
What Wray said: The FBI director shed new light on the timeline surrounding the former White House staff secretary’s departure from the White House. Porter resigned last week after two ex-wives went public with allegations that he physically abused them. “The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July,” Wray said. “Soon thereafter we received request for follow-up inquiry, and we did the follow up and provided that information in November. We administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.”
Porter denies the allegations. But once it became clear that he was operating with an interim security clearance, questions have swirled over when the White House learned of the accusations of abuse, which Porter’s ex-wives say they revealed to the FBI during his background check.
What the White House said: The Administration has offered contradictory answers to questions about when top aides, including chief of staff John Kelly, became aware of the issue. When asked Monday whether at any time in the past year the FBI had told anyone in the White House about the abuse allegations against Porter, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, “We learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening.” When asked about reports that White House counsel Don McGahn had been apprised of the allegations against Porter on multiple prior occasions, Sanders said Monday that those reports are “not accurate.” She also said that “the White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check” by the time of Porter’s resignation. While the FBI investigation was closed, Sanders said Tuesday in the wake of Wray’s comments, the White House personnel security office hadn’t yet finished its process to make its final recommendation on clearance. She added that the security office felt that the FBI’s July report required more field investigation, but she did not reveal what the security office may have shared with senior White House staff at that time.
Russian meddling in U.S. elections
What Coats said: “There should be no doubt that Russia perceived its past efforts as successful,” said Coats, “and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” Coats said “we expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen, and other means to influence to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.”
Later, when the whole panel was asked if Russia would stop its influence campaign, officials unanimously said it would not.
What Trump said: Trump hasn’t taken a strong public stand on whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election, despite the intelligence community’s firm assessment that it did. After meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in November 2017, Trump told reporters, “He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times… Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
Alleged bias in the FBI
What Wray said: Wray denied any systemic political bias in the bureau. The FBI director said Tuesday that every office he has visited has been “very gratifying and reassuring to me,” and that he tells his agents to tune out the accusations: “I encourage our folks not to get too hung up on what I consider to be the noise on TV and social media.”
What Trump said: Trump has repeatedly accused FBI agents of political bias against him. He tweeted in February that “the top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.” He then approved the release of the controversial Nunes memo, which purported to expose bias within the bureau. (The memo was criticized as misleading by Justice Department officials.) He has also pounced on text messages between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok as “BOMBSHELLS!” that he thought revealed anti-Trump sentiment within the agency.
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