A Department of Homeland Security official said in a whistleblower complaint that the head of DHS told him to stop reporting on the Russian threat to the U.S. election because it "made President Trump look bad."
The White House and DHS denied the allegations. However, the president's Democratic critics say the accusations are the latest sign that the Trump administration is attempting to politicize the intelligence community and downplay Russian attempts to interfere in this year's election, as Moscow did in 2016.
The DHS official, Brian Murphy, made the accusation in a formal whistleblower complaint filed Tuesday with the department's inspector general.
Murphy ran the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at DHS until the end of July, when he was demoted to a lesser management job.
Murphy says the acting secretary of DHS, Chad Wolf, told him twice — once in May and again in July — to withhold reporting on potential Russian threats to the election because it cast the president in a bad light. Murphy says he was also told emphasize potential threats from China and Iran.
Murphy says Wolf told him these instructions came from White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien.
White House, DHS denials
"We flatly deny that there is any truth to the merits of Mr. Murphy's claim," said DHS spokesperson Alexei Woltornist. The Homeland Security chief "is focused on thwarting election interference from any foreign powers and attacks from any extremist group."
The White House said O'Brien "has never sought to dictate the intelligence community's focus on threats to the integrity of our elections or on any other topic."
In the 22-page complaint, Murphy says there were multiple meetings this summer about downplaying the domestic threat posed by white supremacists and focusing more on militant leftist movements like antifa.
According to the document, Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, told Murphy to "modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump."
Murphy says he declined to do so. In a statement, Murphy's lawyer Mark Zaid said his client "followed proper lawful whistleblower rules in reporting serious allegations of misconduct against DHS leadership."
Trump has repeatedly challenged U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia interfered on his behalf in the 2016 election.
The intelligence community said in a formal statement last month, and in multiple briefings with journalists, that Russia is again trying to influence the election and favors Trump's reelection.
The intelligence community also cites potential interference from China and Iran but considers them much lesser threats.
Called to testify
Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who heads the House Intelligence Committee, says the complaint "outlines grave and disturbing allegations that senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials improperly sought to politicize, manipulate, and censor intelligence in order to benefit President Trump politically."
He said Murphy has been called to testify before the committee on Sept. 21.
Under different circumstances, Murphy came under public criticism back in July.
The Washington Post reported that Murphy's office at DHS was compiling "intelligence reports" on journalists covering the protests in Portland, Ore., and what they were saying on social media.
At the end of July, Murphy was removed from his intelligence post and demoted. At that time, there was no indication that any of those developments were related to the accusations Murphy is making now.
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
A developing story now that broke this afternoon. An official at the Department of Homeland Security says he was told to stop reporting on the Russian threat to the U.S. election because it would make President Trump look bad. The official makes the accusation in a formal whistleblower complaint that cites the acting head of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf. For more on this, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Sacha.
PFEIFFER: What are the details in this complaint?
MYRE: So it's filed by Brian Murphy. And he's a DHS official who, until recently, was at the office for intelligence and analysis. And we'll have a bit more on his job in a moment. But in this complaint, he says the acting chief of Homeland Security Chad Wolf told him twice, once in May and again in July, to withhold reporting on potential Russian threats to the election because this would cast President Trump in a bad light. Murphy says he was told to emphasize potential threats from China and Iran. And he says he was told those instructions came from White House National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien.
PFEIFFER: And I understand there are additional accusations.
MYRE: Yeah. That's right. Murphy says there were multiple meetings this summer about downplaying the threat posed by white supremacists and focusing on radical leftist movements like in antifa. Murphy says he was instructed by Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, to, quote, "modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump." And Murphy says he refused to do so. And his lawyer says, in a statement, that he followed proper lawful whistleblower rules in reporting serious allegations of misconduct against DHS leadership.
PFEIFFER: Any comment yet from the White House or the Department of Homeland Security?
MYRE: They have not responded to this complaint. And as we know, President Trump has repeatedly challenged intelligence assessments that Russia interfered on his behalf in the 2016 election. And Democrats say the president has been attempting to politicize the intelligence community by appointing political loyalists rather than career professionals. And the intelligence community did say in a formal statement last month and in multiple briefings with journalists that Russia is, again, trying to interfere with the election and in favor of Trump. The intelligence community has also cited some activity by China and Iran but stresses that these countries appear to be much lesser threats.
PFEIFFER: And Greg, you were going to tell us a bit more about the whistleblower Brian Murphy and his role at DHS?
MYRE: Right. So what's interesting here is he came under public criticism back in July. And at that time, The Washington Post reported that his office at Homeland Security was compiling reports about journalists covering the protests out in Portland and what they were saying on social media. And so this drew a lot of criticism. And then at the end of July, Murphy was removed from the intelligence post and demoted. And at that time, there was no indication that any of this was related to these accusations that he's making right now.
PFEIFFER: Greg, thank you. That's NPR's Greg Myre. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.