When James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, testifies behind closed doors on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, he will be the sixth former intelligence official to be brought before Congress as part of what has become an intense focus of the House Republicans. : a public letter sent during the height of the 2020 presidential campaign.
Republicans have taken advantage The document, signed by 51 former intelligence officials whom the Republican Party has called “lying spies,” as primary evidence of their claims that officials within the federal government have sought to smear and harm conservatives. They argue that the letter was written at the behest of President Biden’s allies to distract attention from obscene material found on his son Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop, and that it ultimately helped the aging Biden defeat former President Donald J. Trump. .
In the letter, reported at the time by PoliticoFormer intelligence officials with impressive national security credentials wrote that they believed the laptop’s contents, filled with evidence of drug use, prostitution and foreign dealings, could be part of a Russian campaign aimed at influencing elections. although they emphasized that they were unaware that it was true.
Three days later, Biden quoted the letter during a presidential debate to rebut Trump’s criticism, stating that “there are 50 former members of national intelligence who said you are accusing me of a Russian plot.”
Three years later, no concrete evidence has emerged to confirm the claim that the laptop contained Russian disinformation, and parts of its content have been verified authentic.
Republicans now say they have uncovered evidence that the letter was part of a Biden campaign sting. According to closed-door testimony and emails, Biden campaign officials, including Antony J. Blinken, now Secretary of State, played a role in creating the letter. They also said that a CIA employee “may have” been involved in requesting at least one signature for it.
“The public statement by 51 former intelligence officials was a political operation to help elect Vice President Biden in the 2020 presidential election,” concluded an interim report released last week by the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, led by by the republicans. The report cited an email saying the letter was intended to create a “usable talking point.”
The report concluded: “The American people deserve to know that Hunter Biden’s laptop and emails were real. They were always real. The accusations that they were the product of Russian disinformation were false.”
The investigation into the letter’s signers comes as Republicans investigate multiple aspects of the Hunter Biden story: why social media companies suppressed it; if her father was involved in any of his business; and whether anyone in the government interfered with any investigation into the young Biden, who is currently under federal investigation.
As Justice Department officials weigh the matter, the investigator overseeing the Internal Revenue Service portion of the case has also present allegations of political favoritism in the investigation. On Monday, a lawyer for that investigator sent a brief letter to Congress saying that the investigator and the rest of his team would be removed from the investigation, which is drawing to a close while officials consider filing charges. A spokesman for the president said he was committed to the independence of the Justice Department “free from any political interference from the White House.”
Democrats argue that Republicans are wasting time and resources investigating the 51 former intelligence officials, who were private citizens at the time of the letter and wanted Biden to win the campaign. The former intelligence officials stress that their letter said they had no evidence of a Russian disinformation campaign and were merely expressing an opinion.
Several said they did not regret their actions.
“Congress is wasting their time and our money investigating the First Amendment rights of private citizens,” Mark Zaid, an attorney representing seven signers of the letter, said in an interview.
Democrats also argue that the letter must be understood in its proper context. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose credibility had been weakened, had been buying up the laptop’s contents in different media outlets not long after. warned a senior Trump intelligence official that Russia was seeking “mainly to denigrate former Vice President Biden” and that “some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy.”
Democrats also point out that Facebook and Twitter decided to censor or limit sharing of a New York Post article about the laptop’s contents. five days before the publication of the letter in Politico.
In a statement submitted to Congress on behalf of Michael J. Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, Morell said he “organized and helped draft” the statement “because of his honest and well-founded belief that Russia was somehow involved in in the rise of Hunter Biden emails for the purpose of interfering in the 2020 presidential election.”
“The public statement was careful not to claim that the New York Post story was disinformation or that the information it reported was untrue, and Mr. Morell was careful to confirm his suspicions with information from public sources and the opinions of various experts. in the field,” the statement read.
But Republicans hope to intensify the investigation and have scheduled at least two more transcribed interviews. Rep. Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also suggested in an interview that he would investigate whether any of the signatories had retained their security clearances and whether Congress might pass legislation to revoke them.
“I think the 51 people who signed that now famous letter probably had all their security clearances.” he said. “Makes sense?”