- Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a dubious claim from Russian intelligence sources alleging that former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal” against then-Republican candidate Donald Trump and his ties to Russia.
- Ratcliffe said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham that the US intelligence community “does not know the accuracy” of the allegation “or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.”
- The DNI’s move raised questions about why the nation’s spy chief declassified information that had not been corroborated and which he himself admitted may be false or exaggerated.
- Ratcliffe’s decision to release disparaging information about Clinton also mirrors Moscow’s ongoing disinformation campaign against the former secretary of state.
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John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, declassified dubious information from a “Russian intelligence analysis” in 2016 alleging that then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal” against then-Republican candidate Donald Trump “by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee.”
Ratcliffe divulged the information in a letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of Trump’s staunchest congressional allies.
However, the letter said the US intelligence community “does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.”
Ratcliffe’s move raised immediate questions about why the country’s top intelligence official declassified information that the US could not corroborate, and which Ratcliffe himself acknowledged could be false or exaggerated.
Moreover, as several observers pointed out, Ratcliffe’s decision to release disparaging information about Clinton from Russian intelligence sources appears to mirror Moscow’s ongoing disinformation campaign against the former secretary of state.
The president and his allies have also amplified the claim over the last several years, alleging without evidence that the Clinton campaign colluded with the Ukrainian government to cook up a Trump-Russia conspiracy and sabotage his campaign. US intelligence officials have seen no evidence supporting the claim, and a bipartisan report by the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee concluded the same.
The intelligence community also determined in early 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government and intelligence agencies to wage an elaborate and extensive campaign to interfere in the 2016 general election. Putin’s main goal was to damage Clinton and propel Trump to the Oval Office, according to the US’s assessment.
Nick Merrill, a spokesperson for Clinton, described the allegations Ratcliffe’s letter laid out as “baseless bullshit” in a text message to Politico.
Frank Montoya, a recently retired FBI special agent, told Business Insider in a text message that the allegation Ratcliffe publicized “sounds like more Russian disinformation” meant to protect the “Russian intel effort to undermine our sovereignty. This is how Russia (like the Soviet Union before it) does disinformation ops.”
“What’s more, this is old news, meaning the IC has had years to corroborate it and hasn’t been able to do that,” he added. Montoya said the DNI’s decision was particularly striking given that when he served in Congress, he and other Republicans railed against the release of uncorroborated information connected to the so-called Steele dossier, an unverified collection of memos by a former British intelligence officer alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“Ratcliffe is serving up political chum to the President’s allies on-demand, seeming to disregard whether it’s A) accurate or B) in service of a foreign disinformation campaign,” Ned Price, the former senior director of the National Security Council under President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter.
“This is Russian disinformation,” Rachel Cohen, spokesperson for Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted. “Laundered by the Director Of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is extraordinary.”
Ratcliffe’s letter also said that John Brennan, the CIA director at the time of the July 2016 “Russian intelligence analysis,” briefed Obama and other senior officials on the information.
In September 2016, the letter said, US intelligence officials “forwarded an investigative referral” to then-FBI Director James Comey and then-Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok. The referral was about Clinton’s “approval of a plan concerning” Trump “and Russian hackers hampering US elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.”
Ratcliffe’s letter said that Attorney General William Barr, who Trump tapped to run the Justice Department last year, “has advised that the disclosure of this information will not interfere with ongoing Department of Justice investigations.”
Trump fired Comey in May 2017 after he confirmed the existence of the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. And the bureau fired Strzok after it surfaced that he exchanged anti-Trump text messages with Lisa Page, who was an FBI lawyer at the time. Comey is set to testify before Graham’s committee on Wednesday.
Ratcliffe was confirmed as DNI earlier this year after Trump ousted Joseph Maguire, the former acting DNI after he authorized an official to brief Congress on Russia’s ongoing interference in the 2020 election.
Ratcliffe was previously a congressman from Texas and one of Trump’s biggest attack dogs on Capitol Hill. He made headlines last year when he berated the former special counsel Robert Mueller during the latter’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee about the Russia probe.
Trump initially nominated Ratcliffe as DNI shortly after that hearing in July 2019, but Ratcliffe withdrew from consideration after it surfaced that he inflated his resume and misled the public about his role in overseeing anti-terrorism efforts at the US attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Texas. Trump nominated him a second time earlier this year, and he was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate in May.