President Donald Trump’s appointees have expressed reluctance to offer public testimony that might contradict his talking points.
The House’s Homeland Security chairman is accusing U.S. law enforcement leaders of reneging on a deal to brief lawmakers next week about national security threats, in the latest clash between the Trump administration and members of Congress over the Hill’s access to intelligence.
“Your intransigence at the eleventh hour is outrageous, as is your offer to brief the Committee nearly two months from now, and these actions raise serious questions about whether your agencies are truly committed to keeping Members of Congress informed and respecting the Committee’s oversight responsibilities,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote in a Wednesday letter obtained by POLITICO.
The missive — addressed to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Lora Shiao, the acting head of the National Counterterrorism Center — says the panel “engaged with your offices in good faith for well over a month to schedule” the proposed session.
“I request that you immediately commit to sending representatives to brief the committee on worldwide threats in a classified setting next week,” Thompson wrote.
The friction with the House panel comes as top lawmakers on the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee have separately pushed for President Donald Trump’s intelligence officials to testify publicly about worldwide threats before Congress’ August recess. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has sought to move the Senate briefing entirely behind closed doors after last year’s session prompted Trump to spend days attacking his agency chiefs for contradicting him on issues like Iran and North Korea.
The House Homeland Security panel has traditionally held a public hearing on worldwide threats around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. However, the session didn’t occur in 2018, due to pushback from the Trump administration. It took place last year, but only after Thompson subpoenaed the then-acting DHS and NCTC chiefs.
A Democratic committee staff member told POLITICO that the panel first engaged DHS, FBI and ODNI — of which NCTC is a part — in mid-June about the annual hearing.
Negotiations between the two sides eventually converted the format into a classified briefing. ODNI then proposed the briefing take place virtually, but that idea was scrapped due to security concerns, the staff member said. The format was altered again to an in-person briefing before all three agencies pulled the plug over the last week, suggesting the briefing occur in September instead.
In his letter, Thompson reiterated a request for the officials to appear before the panel for the annual hearing on Sept. 10, noting that last year the committee was forced to issue subpoenas in order to obtain testimony as a “last resort.”
“I certainly hope your refusal to brief next week and reluctance to commit to testifying do not indicate that compulsory process will be necessary again,” the Mississippi Democrat warned, adding he’s “prepared to use all tools at the committee’s disposal” to ensure lawmakers understand the current threat landscape.
“We received the letter and we are working with the committee,” the FBI said in a statement.
ODNI and DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.