Congress, Russia, David discussed on The Lawfare Podcast


I am old enough to remember what you alluded to a moment ago, which is that you know there have been times when both the I see and members of Congress preferred to do briefings orally, and the reason from the I sees side I suppose was lack of you know less capacity for leaks particularly, leaks documents the reason from the congressional side was you know frankly more plausible deniability that is if you were were briefed on something orally, you could in a kind of Jim Sensenbrenner kind of way pretend you didn't. See the brief thing or you didn't know about it and you're shocked anyway that this activity is going on and on the other hand I it allows for if you get if you have a piece of paper, you accountable for knowing what was on the sheet of paper. So is this a situation where Congress is doing? A kind of grass is greener thing if they get the oral briefings, they want the written briefings. If they get the written briefings, they want the oral briefings or are they really losing something here? Good intelligence oversight should get both and as much as there is tension from the intelligence community of historically in terms of briefing Congress. It has become the norm that the intelligence community will provide written and oral briefings to Congress I've spoken with all of the DNA is up until this one and to a person I think all of them would say that they don't enjoy briefing Congress they don't enjoy the grilling and the tough questions and the possible politicization, and certainly in the open testimony the feeling that there's always the possibility of something sensitive being revealed don't think they relish the experience but I think to a person, all of But this is what we do in. This is a part of the job to do it both in terms of written responses to questions and oral briefings when requested the oddity of this experience Ben, is that ratcliff putting out the logic for providing only written products a non oral briefings that there have been too many leaks and the acting chairman of the Senate Committee Marco Rubio followed this up with a statement calling the leaks recently vile in grotesque well that may be true but if so the logic then would be come in. and provide us the oral briefings and not the written briefings because a written document. Any member of Congress can take and read it directly to a reporter or photocopy it and give it to somebody in oral briefing is not hard to leak, but it's a little bit harder to leak the details and the nuances than it is when you have the written document that you keep with you. So it is a little bit odd to see the logic of preventing leaks being applied in the opposite way that it has usually been applied. All Right Margaret. So David's talked about this from a intelligence community perspective. Let's talk about it from a congressional perspective rackliff of course, is reasonably sophisticated about both he was only very recently a member of Congress. Why do you think he wants to limit the communication this way surely, he knows that what David just said is correct that if you if you create a paper trail that doesn't reduce the capacity for leaks, arguably increases it and it in any event increases the accountability in the sense that if you know if you whisper something in my ear in an oral. Briefing and I go spill it. You can claim you never set it or you can say that I miss characterized it. But if you give me a piece of paper with five sentences on at night, I read those five sentences to the press. You can't tell me you never said them and so what are you understand Ratcliffe to be trying to do here So I'm going to be much less even-handed. Maybe than David is I think that ratcliff is trying to limit the amount of information and nuance that members of Congress get specifically with respect to what Russia is doing probably right now to interfere in the two thousand, sixteen election I suspect that what Russia is doing is more sophisticated than what was done in two thousand sixteen and that sits very active that they've they learned from what their successes and failures of they're doing even more. And I think that ratcliff is trying to limit the amount of information that gets to Congress and to the public about those reality is and that's consistent with president trump's goals it would seem so I'm not usually so impolitic, but you know for me and for folks that I talked to on a regular basis, this this decision has been characterized to me by people on the hill as fucking crazy people are are pretty apoplectic about it and it's being viewed by many as again this. Sort of very deliberate mechanism for not having members ask tough questions and the reality is when I was on the hill, I did do a number of these classified briefings you have to to prep your boss really well for these because other types of briefers, the brief Ersan, the intelligence community they they're very good. They're very knowledgeable, but typically, they will only answer the very specific question that a member or a staffer asks them. They are not people who embellish or or give you. Lots of context or anything like that. So in that sense, the member or a staffer you have to know you have to have a very specific question to ask and you have to know which questions ask if you don't have specific opportunity to ask questions, you don't know what you don't know, and so to me this definitely reads as a full-frontal attempt to limit what members can ask about an understand about what is going on with respect to interfere in the twenty, twenty election and. Just to to take a few minutes, you know you ask the in the beginning about what's the story here? For me that the story begins back on July, twenty th when William Evans, who's the director of the National Counter Intelligence and Security Centre issued a pretty calm milk toast assessment of foreign interference in the twenty twenty election. It makes it a vague references to China and Russia members of Congress were very unhappy with it and said, this is unhelpful. It doesn't give Americans. Any sense for you know what's really going on or how they can protect their vote in the two thousand election as a result of that and another briefing that occurred the director of national counterintelligence. Security Center. Issued another come update to it on August seventh was essentially said you know we're updating this. We're going to be more specific about the efforts of Russia China and Iran and in that particular document members of Congress then criticized that documents saying you know this assessment incorrectly puts Russia and China on this team plane in terms of what they're doing to interfere in the twenty twenty election and based on members classified briefings up to that point that was not their impression at least the the Democratic members that that came out and said something about that so. For me this story about what rack does. rackliff letter is specifically tied to this series of events. The relate to briefings to members, of Congress and their reactions to it. And I. Think this is it's an extremely bad velopment. It's going to cause so much mistrust between the branches and something has really been lost here. Something something valuable has been lost and. It's bad. It's really bad. Okay. So before I get David to respond to that I just want you to flesh out. What the difference is between the world in which this is a the mode and the world of oral briefings so I imagine it's you know it's briefing time now and your the I see and I'm the congressional staffer or member how does it work now and just walk me through how how I am losing verses before. So look I've never encountered this kind of situation where you know you're allowed to view some sort of intelligence product but there's there's no possibility of talking to anyone about or getting someone to come up and brief about it. So it's a little bit of a strange sort of world for me but. I imagine what what happens now is is you know the the icy will say, okay well, we just just notifying people we sent over something you can go take a look if you'd like members or staff whatever can go down, read a document and it seems like what they're saying at least respect to this election security bucket is. You know that's it. There's not gonNA be any briefings. You can maybe right right some questions back the agency and hope that they that they respond. So it's it's just pretty limited. I. Think. I don't want to under sell how much I think members do get from that live back and forth with. Members of the intelligence community and one of the ways that these types of briefings are unique actually because they are behind closed doors. Members tend to ask lots of questions that are factual in nature in other words..

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