4 of the most explosive allegations of misconduct
In a damning whistleblower complaint filed Tuesday, a Department of Homeland Security official accused several of the agency’s top leaders of seeking to alter intelligence that would undermine President Donald Trump’s policy objectives.
Brian Murphy, the former head of DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, alleged in the complaint that department leaders retaliated against him after he pushed back on their requests to alter intelligence. He said he was reassigned last month to a reduced role in the department’s management division.
In light of the complaint, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has asked Murphy to testify before the committee on Sept. 21.
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,” Schiff said in a statement Wednesday. “This puts our nation and its security at grave risk.”
Here are the most startling accusations from the complaint:
1. Then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen lied to congress about the U.S.-Mexico border threat
Murphy alleged Nielsen, who served as Homeland Security secretary from December 2017 to April 2019, committed perjury by lying to Congress about the threat of terrorists crossing the border into the U.S. from Mexico.
According to the complaint, Nielsen’s top aides repeatedly pressured Murphy’s office to ensure its intelligence assessments fit the Trump administration’s claim that “large numbers” of known or suspected terrorists (KSTs) were entering the U.S. from the southwest border. Murphy’s office reportedly declined each time.
Murphy said he provided Nielsen with accurate intelligence on KSTs during a preparation session ahead of her December 2018 testimony before Congress. Nonetheless, Nielsen made “a knowing and deliberate submission of false material information” about KSTs during her congressional testimony.
In March 2019, Murphy attended another preparation session with Nielsen in advance of her testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, according to the complaint. He said he informed Nielsen that no more than three KSTs had crossed the border ― not 3,755, as she had said during her December 2018 congressional testimony.
Nielsen’s aides suggested she should “deflect away from addressing” the discrepancy between the actual data and her previous testimony. Murphy pushed back on that suggestion and was subsequently removed from the meeting, according to the complaint.
During her testimony the next day, Nielsen again lied to Congress about the number of KSTs crossing into the U.S., Murphy said in his complaint.
2. Top immigration official demanded ‘Deep State’ analysts be fired over intelligence reports he didn’t like
Ken Cuccinelli ― director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a DHS agency that administers the country’s naturalization and immigration system ― ordered analysts who compiled intelligence assessments he didn’t like to be fired or reassigned, according to Murphy’s complaint.
In December 2019, Murphy presented Cuccinelli with intelligence reports regarding conditions in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador ― three countries from which many undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have originated. The reports are meant to help U.S. asylum officers “render better determinations regarding their legal standards,” according to Murphy’s complaint.
Cuccinelli, an outspoken Trump supporter, requested “changes to the information outlining high levels of corruption, violence, and poor economic conditions in the three respective countries,” the complaint alleged.
He then accused “deep state intelligence analysts” of including such information in an attempt to undermine Trump’s hardline immigration policies, and demanded those analysts be either fired or reassigned, according to Murphy’s complaint.
Murphy said he declined to follow Cuccinelli’s instructions.
3. Homeland Security Head Chad Wolf ordered Murphy to halt intelligence assessments on Russian interference
In September 2018, David Glawe, the then-head of DHS’s intelligence and analysis office, testified before Congress that Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections. His confirmation of Russian interference angered Trump, who demanded Glawe be fired in response, according to Murphy’s complaint.
Nielsen and then-White House chief of staff John Kelly successfully convinced Trump to “give Glawe another chance,” the complaint alleged. Murphy worked under Glawe at the time.
In mid-May 2020, around the time Glawe left DHS, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf instructed Murphy to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian election interference, according to the complaint.
Murphy said Wolf told him to instead begin reporting on Chinese and Iranian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections per a request from White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien.
Murphy told Wolf he would not comply with those instructions and that “doing so would put the country in substantial and specific danger” according to the complaint.
In July 2020, Wolf told Murphy that an intelligence bulletin regarding Russian disinformation should be “held” because it “made the President look bad,” according to the complaint. DHS’s decision to withhold the bulletin was first reported by ABC News earlier this month.
Murphy said he objected to Wolf’s decision, calling it “improper to hold a vetted intelligence product for reasons for political embarrassment.” Wolf then excluded Murphy from subsequent meetings about the bulletin.
A revised bulletin was eventually sent without Murphy’s approval, in which DHS attempted “to place the actions of Russia on par with those of Iran and China in a manner that is misleading and inconsistent with the actual intelligence data,” according to the complaint.
4. Wolf and Cuccinelli directed Murphy to downplay white supremacy threat, stoke Antifa fears
In May 2020, Cuccinelli instructed Murphy to modify a section of an annual homeland threat assessment (HTA) report to make the threat of white supremacy “appear less severe,” according to the complaint. Cuccinelli also allegedly asked Murphy to include “information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups.” Murphy said he declined to do so.
Wolf echoed Cuccinelli’s concerns during a meeting with Murphy in July 2020, according to the complaint. When Murphy declined to sign off on edits proposed by Wolf’s team, Wolf allegedly assigned other DHS officials to complete the assessment without Murphy’s involvement.
In his complaint, Murphy said the final version of the HTA is likely to “more closely resemble a policy document with references to ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups than an intelligence document” compiled by analysts.
Between May and July 2020, Wolf and Cuccinelli pressured Murphy to “modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up” with Trump’s public comments about antifa and “anarchist” groups. Trump has claimed for months that “left-wing extremism” and antifa are a major threat to the safety of Americans, despite the lack of evidence to support his claims.
Murphy said he declined to alter the intelligence assessments “based upon political rhetoric.”
On July 31, Wolf told Murphy he was considering reassigning him to DHS’s management division, according to the complaint. Wolf, hoping to be formally nominated as DHS secretary, allegedly told Murphy that the reassignment would help his own political ambitions.
Murphy said he told Wolf that demoting him for political gain would “constitute an abuse of authority,” but Wolf proceeded to do so the next day.
Last week, Politico obtained and reported on three drafts of the HTA, which has not yet been published. The drafts warned that white supremacists are the greatest threat to the country’s homeland security. None of the drafts mentioned Antifa.
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On 6 October Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, released his department’s annual assessment of violent threats to the nation. Analysts didn’t have to dig deep into the assessment to discover its alarming content. In a foreword, Wolf wrote that he was “particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years. [They] seek to force ideological change in the United States through violence, death, and destruction.”
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