WASHINGTON — Senators from both parties expressed their frustration after walking out of a closed-door briefing Wednesday with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, who refused to show them copies of classified documents discovered at the Mar-a-Resort resort. Lake of Donald Trump and the office of Joe Biden and Delaware. house.
Haines also declined to discuss the confidential material, citing ongoing investigations by the special counsel, according to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who attended the classified briefing.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, was so furious after the briefing that he threatened to block presidential candidates or funding for some federal agencies until the Biden administration shows the classified documents to key lawmakers.
“Whether by blocking nominees or withholding budget funds, Congress will inflict pain on the administration until it provides these documents. And that comes from both sides,» Cotton told reporters.
“I am prepared to withhold consent or expedite the track of any nominee to any department or agency and take whatever steps I can in every committee I serve on to impose consequences on the administration until they provide these documents for Congress to do our self-informed judgment about the risk to national security.”
Senators were told Wednesday that Biden administration officials cannot report to Congress on a damage assessment of the documents until special counsel investigating the Trump and Biden documents give the green light.
The bipartisan leaders of the Senate intelligence panel walked out of the secure briefing room together and rejected the administration’s argument.
That is «not a defensible position,» said Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. “What I think the director heard is that she didn’t just hear it from Senator Rubio and myself, literally every single member of the committee, without exception, said this will not stand.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the committee’s vice chair, called it a «very unsatisfactory hearing.»
“The bottom line is this: they won’t tell us what they have until the special prosecutor allows them to tell us. That is an unacceptable position,” Rubio said.
Warner and others noted that the Senate Intelligence panel received regular reports about Russian interference in the 2016 election at the same time a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the matter.
The senators argued that their committee has oversight responsibilities in intelligence matters and that they should be able to assess whether the discovery of classified documents in the unsecured homes and offices of Trump and Biden pose a threat to national security. On Tuesday, news broke that a lawyer for Mike Pence had discovered about a dozen documents at the former vice president’s home in Indiana and turned them over to the FBI.
“We have a job to do and we are going to do it,” Warner said.
Another committee member, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said there is «a lot of concern» about Haines and other intelligence officials delegating to the Justice Department deciding who has access to recovered classified documents.
“Normally, in a criminal investigation or a police investigation, we don’t want to talk about it to protect the integrity of the investigation and the rights of the person being investigated,” said Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general.
«But here, there are larger concerns, public safety concerns, national security concerns that make this an exceptional case.»
Wednesday’s briefing with Haines was not scheduled to focus on the documents; it was one of the regular updates he gives the Intelligence Committee. Haines made no public statement as he left the briefing at the confidential information compartmentalized facility, known as SCIF.
The galling briefing came as lawmakers from both parties and both houses expressed concern and exasperation that the government’s system for tagging and tracking thousands of classified documents appears to be broken.
“It seems to be a problem that is exclusive to the executive branch, but we will solve everything. It’s good that Americans are thinking about our national security,» said Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
«I’m not saying anything bad about the three [Biden, Trump and Pence], but classified information in the wrong hands can create problems for our country, put people at risk. That’s why these things are important.»