House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) recently invited U.S. intelligence agency leaders to appear before his panel on Feb. 12, the day after tomorrow, for an annual discussion of global threats. Politico reported on Friday afternoon, however, that the hearing has been delayed -- for reasons that are worth paying attention to.
U.S. intelligence community leaders will not testify publicly or privately before House lawmakers next week about global threats, as negotiations on the timing and format of the annual hearing continue, according to people on both sides of the talks.
The Worldwide Threats hearing that takes place in the House and Senate has become an awkward source of tension after POLITICO first reported that intelligence officials pushed for the hearing that features both public and classified sessions to be moved entirely behind closed-doors over fears their bosses might provoke President Donald Trump's ire.
Some background is probably in order. As we recently discussed, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is responsible for producing an annual report on global security threats, which is soon followed by a congressional hearing in which top security officials brief lawmakers on the report's findings. In theory, it need not be especially political or partisan.
But in practice, it's a different story. A year ago, then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was joined by FBI Director Chris Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel for a Senate hearing in which they completely contradicted the president's position on a wide range of key issues, including Iran, North Korea, Russia, border security, and climate change. It quickly became clear that when it came to global threats, Trump and his national security team had very little in common.
As regular readers may recall, that's when things got a little weird.
The president's initial reaction was to mock U.S. intelligence professionals, calling them “passive,” “naïve,” and in need of additional schooling. Trump kept the offensive going, suggesting he lacked confidence in the information he received from Haspel and Coats.
Soon after, the president reversed course and boasted that everyone on his team actually agrees with him, and the whole mess was the media's fault.
A year later, it's time for the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment to be released again, along with another accompanying Capitol Hill hearing. Except, intelligence officials are worried about a replay of last year's presidential tantrum, so they want to make the 2020 hearing an entirely closed-door event -- not to protect secrets, but by some accounts to ensure agency chiefs aren't "seen on-camera ... disagreeing with the president on big issues."
The absurdity of the circumstances is striking. If the congressional intelligence committees hold public hearings on global threat assessments, the president's national security team will tell lawmakers the truth. But in the process, they'll also contradict Trump's strange and baseless beliefs, which will infuriate the president.
The solution, then, isn't to have a president who's comfortable with reality. The solution intelligence officials prefer is to make it more difficult to have hearings that would likely trigger the president.
On MSNBC last month, Andrea Mitchell confirmed the reporting, adding, "This is a signal moment." Evidently, that moment is ongoing.
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