Republican and Democratic senators emerged from a closed-door meeting Wednesday with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines fuming that the Biden administration is withholding details about President Biden’s and former President Donald Trump’s mishandled classified documents.
Sen. Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is blocking the release of key details of the documents until the Department of Justice concludes its investigations.
“I’m very disappointed with the lack of detail and a timeline when we’re going to get a briefing,” Mr. Warner said as he departed the meeting at the Capitol. “Every member of the committee, regardless of Democrat or Republican were unanimous in the position that we’re left in limbo until somehow a special counsel designates that it’s okay for us to get briefed, is not going to stand.”
Mr. Warner’s frustrations were echoed by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the committee. He said the administration’s stonewalling impeded the committee’s ability to do its job of providing oversight of the intelligence community.
“We simply want to know what was this information, what were these materials that they had, so that we can make an honest assessment when they provide us a risk assessment of whether or not they’re they’ve taken the proper mitigation if any was necessary,” Mr. Rubio said. “And to say that they’re not going to share any with us as long as the Special Counsel doesn’t allow them to share it with us, that’s an untenable position and it won’t stand.”
Committee members said ODNI had not provided a preliminary assessment of the risk to national security posed by the unsecured documents recovered from Mr. Biden’s home in Delaware and at an office he used at a think tank in Washington.
The ODNI also has not provided a risk assessment concerning the documents recovered in the FBI raid of Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Ms. Haines said in August that the intelligence community would undertake such a review.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the committee, said Wednesday’s briefing raised questions about whether ODNI had viewed the documents or was being barred from doing so until the DOJ completed its investigation.
“My understanding is that the Director of National Intelligence’s position is that if the … the attorney general says, ‘This is an ongoing investigation, you cannot get access to those documents,’ that they will stand down.”
When asked how the ODNI could complete its investigation without viewing the documents, Mr. Cornyn replied: “That’s a good question.”
Mr. Rubio also said he had the impression ODNI had been blocked from accessing the documents.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, called ODNI’s excuse for not handing over the documents a “farce.” He vowed to be a thorn in the side of the administration until Congress can perform its oversight role.
“I’m prepared to refuse consent or to fast track any nominee for any department or agency and take every step I can on every committee on which I serve, to impose consequences on the administration until they provide these documents for Congress to make our own informed judgment about the risk to national security,” he said. “Several other senators I suspect are going to take the same view, I suspect the Republican majority in the House will as well.”
“There’s a simple solution to this,” he added. “The administration should stop stonewalling the Congress and provide these documents to us.”
Despite his frustrations, Mr. Warner stopped short of committing to blocking nominees.
“We don’t want to get into a question of threats at this point,” he said. “We do want to say this though: We have a job to do, and it’s our job to mark sure our security is protected and that the intelligence our country depends upon is not compromised.”
“The notion that we have to wait until a special prosecutor blesses the intelligence committees oversight will not stand,” he said.
The ODNI did not respond to a request for comment.