Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf speaks during a press conference on the actions taken by Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security agents in Portland during continued protests at the US Customs and Border Patrol headquarters on July 21, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Samuel Corum | Getty Images
Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on Wednesday accused President Donald Trump of blocking the release of a Department of Homeland Security bulletin that warns Russia is seeking to promote “allegations about the poor mental health” of the former vice president.
“Trump does not want to expose the degree to which his political partners in the Kremlin are propagating this message for his benefit,” said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Democrat Biden’s campaign.
“He is blocking the intelligence community from sharing with federal and state law enforcement a crucial finding: that Russia is disseminating false and scurrilous attacks on the health of Joe Biden — one that aligns with Trump’s own constantly-backfiring attacks,” Bates said.
Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly suggested that Biden is not mentally competent to become president.
ABC News reported Wednesday that DHS in early July withheld the scheduled publication of an intelligence bulletin to law enforcement agencies titled “Russia Likely to Denigrate Health of US Candidates to Influence 2020 Election.”
Just one hour after that bulletin was submitted for legal and public affairs review within DHS, which had planned to send out that alert within two days, DHS Chief of Staff John Gountanis sent an email saying, “Please hold on sending this one out until you have a chance to speak to” Chad Wolf, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, according to ABC News.
The draft of the bulletin said that analysts had determined with “high confidence” that “Russian malign influence actors are likely to continue denigrating presidential candidates through allegations of poor mental or physical health to influence the outcome of the 2020 election,” according to ABC News.
While the bulletin does include references to efforts by both Iran and China to criticize Trump, its focus is on how Russia is seeking to cast doubt on Biden’s mental competency, the report said.
NBC News later reported that DHS confirmed the agency is withholding an intelligence report stating that the Russians are seeking to raise questions about the presidential candidates’ health, as ABC News reported.
A DHS spokesman told NBC that the bulletin does not meet the quality standards of the agency.
“While DHS generally does not comment on leaked documents, this particular draft product lacked the necessary context and evidence for broader dissemination outside of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis,” the spokesman said.
“After briefing the Acting Secretary and he asked questions, I&A career leadership decided to delay the product for further review.”
Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for Trump’s presidential campaign, in a statement responding to the Biden campaign said, “The Intelligence Community has determined that both China and Iran are trying to stop President Trump’s re-election. And it was the Democrats – Hillary Clinton and the [Democratic National Committee] – who actively solicited the assistance of foreign nationals in their unsuccessful effort to beat President Trump in 2016, using a fake dossier compiled by a foreign former intelligence agent using Russian disinformation.”
“President Trump will beat Joe Biden fair and square and we don’t need or want any foreign interference,” Murtaugh said.
Bates, the Biden campaign’s spokesman, said the withholding of the report “is especially notable and deeply concerning” because news of it came days after disclosure that the Trump “administration is also seeking to keep the American people in the dark about election interference by cutting off congressional briefings on that same subject.”
Last Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence that it will no longer give in-person briefings about election security and foreign election interference.
While those committees still will get access to written finished intelligence reports, their members will not be able to question ODNI officials about the report in person.
Bates said Wednesday, “Not only did Trump ask for Russian interference and use it in 2016, but his administration stifled a public warning about another form of it in 2020.”
“This is yet another reason why voters cannot believe a single thing Donald Trump or his campaign say,” Bates said.