WASHINGTON – Trump administration officials at the Department of Homeland Security directed intelligence analysts to stop providing assessments of Russian interference in the U.S. election and to instead focus on China and Iran, according to a whistleblower complaint released Wednesday.
The whistleblower, Brian Murphy, who served as an undersecretary in the Homeland Security agency's intelligence office, said acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf told him to squash information about Russian election interference in May of this year.
"Mr. Wolf instructed Mr. Murphy to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran," states the complaint filed by Murphy's attorneys.
Wolf told Murphy the instructions came directly from President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Robert O’Brien.
"Mr. Murphy informed Mr. Wolf he would not comply with these instructions, as doing so would put the country in substantial and specific danger," the complaint says.
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Trump has repeatedly downplayed Russia's efforts to undermine American democracy, even though U.S. intelligence officials have concluded the Kremlin orchestrated a sophisticated campaign to boost Trump's candidacy in 2016. Lawmakers in Congress and Trump's own intelligence officials continue to warn that Russia is trying to sway the 2020 presidential contest.
The new whistleblower complaint makes two other explosive allegations: that DHS officials pressured him to downplay the threat from white supremacists while playing up the threat from left-wing protesters and to manipulate intelligence on possible terrorists trying to enter the United States via the border with Mexico.
Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Alexei Woltornist denied Murphy's allegations and said an investigation into his claims would "conclude that no retaliatory action was taken against Mr. Murphy."
The agency was "working to address all threats to the homeland regardless of ideology," and Wolf was "focused on thwarting election interference from any foreign powers and attacks from any extremist group,” Woltornist said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Murphy's complaint "outlines grave and disturbing allegations" that senior White House and DHS officials sought to "politicize, manipulate, and censor intelligence in order to benefit President Trump politically."
Schiff said he has asked Murphy to testify before the committee and vowed to "expose any and all misconduct or corruption to the American people, and put a stop to the politicization of intelligence.”
Murphy alleged top DHS officials intervened in the agency’s assessment of domestic threats to conform with Trump’s public statements about left-wing threats.
The complaint says Kenneth Cuccinelli, Trump's acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, directed Murphy to change the assessment’s description on white supremacy “in a manner that made the threat appear less severe” while also adding information on “violent ‘left-wing’ groups,” according to the complaint. Murphy declined to do so and told Cuccinelli the changes would amount to “censorship” and “improper administration of an intelligence program.”
The complaint says Cuccinelli and Wolf directed Murphy in multiple meetings between May and July 2020 to “modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups.”
Trump has railed against left-wing agitators throughout his presidency. Antifa – short for "anti-fascists" – refers to loosely affiliated, left-leaning anti-racist groups that have been involved in some violent clashes in recent years. The movement has no unified structure or national leadership but has shown up at some protests.
Murphy also alleges that he was told to provide Trump's first DHS secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, with intelligence analysis that "supported the policy argument that large numbers" of known or suspected terrorists were entering the United States through the southwest border.
"Mr. Murphy declined to censor or manipulate the intelligence information, viewing it as an improper administration of an intelligence program" and told his superiors that would constitute a felony, the complaint says.
"When Mr. Murphy would provide the intelligence information for Secretary Nielsen’s review, there subsequently would be e-mail or phone calls from (DHS officials) ... seeking to have the underlying intelligence data reinterpreted to fit the White House’s policy," he writes.
He said Cuccinelli pressed for a highly negative portrayal of immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
"Mr. Cuccinelli stated he wanted changes to the information outlining high levels of corruption, violence, and poor economic conditions in the three respective countries," the complaint states. And he ordered Murphy and other colleague to name "deep state" individuals who had compiled the intelligence reports that did not conform to his directives.
Murphy was reassigned to another DHS division on Aug. 1 amid reports that Murphy’s office had collected intelligence on journalists and protesters in Portland, Oregon.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Whistleblower: Trump officials pressured him to downplay Russia threat