American Oversight today sued the nation’s top intelligence agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), for failing to release multiple categories of records that could shed light on whether and to what extent official resources have been commandeered for political purposes.
ODNI has been thrown into the spotlight this week amid growing public furor over reports that the Russian government paid bounties to Afghan militants to kill American soldiers — and that President Donald Trump received intelligence briefings about the bounties but failed to act. The president’s daily intelligence briefing is prepared and delivered by officials from ODNI. News reports have suggested that political pressures, including the president’s known aversion to receiving negative information about Russia, may have led officials to downplay the intelligence about the Russian bounty program.
American Oversight has been investigating the politicization of ODNI following the appointment of Trump loyalist Ric Grenell, who served as acting director of national intelligence (DNI) from February to May and who oversaw the firing of the intelligence community’s internal watchdog in April. American Oversight filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking a range of records from ODNI, including emails sent by Grenell concerning former Inspector General Michael Atkinson, decision memos issued by Grenell, as well as communications and calendar records of high-ranking officials.
Grenell and his senior adviser, Kash Patel — who has a history of undermining the U.S. response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — took office on Feb. 20, just before Trump was reportedly briefed about Russian bounties. As acting DNI, Grenell would almost certainly have received the same briefings as Trump, and if he issued a decision to downplay the intelligence reports, records of that decision would be responsive to the FOIA requests included in American Oversight’s lawsuit.
Grenell was replaced in May by a new director, John Ratcliffe, a former Republican congressman who was confirmed by the Senate after initially withdrawing from consideration for the job following reporting that he had overstated his national security credentials.
Politicization of formerly apolitical government functions has been a recurring and troubling pattern during the Trump administration, from the president’s withholding of military aid to Ukraine to the Justice Department’s unprecedented moves to protect Trump’s friends and target his perceived foes, and from the appointment of a Steve Bannon ally to run the Voice of America news service to the recent move to install a political loyalist at the head of the federal government’s personnel agency.
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