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Release of unverified Russian intelligence sparks questions about politicization

Recent developments on national intelligence have exacerbated concerns the Trump administration is co-opting government capabilities for its own gain. In one example, mere hours before the first Trump-Biden debate, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified unverified Russian intelligence suggesting Hillary Clinton tried to link Trump to Russia in 2016. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, from worries about a potential transition to worries about the use and possible abuse of intelligence and the levers of government by the Trump administration.

    Here's our Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    When President Trump argued during Tuesday's debate that he was the victim of a Clinton conspiracy…

  • President Donald Trump:

    You saw what happened today with Hillary Clinton, where it was a whole big con job.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    … he had new evidence released just hours before.

    A letter from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a Russian assessment that Hillary Clinton planned to — quote — "stir up a scandal" in 2016 by tying candidate Trump to Russian hacking, even though Ratcliffe admitted he does not know the accuracy of this allegation.

    It was also cited yesterday by Judiciary Committee Chairman and Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    You have got a letter now from Ratcliffe saying that there was a — they intercepted information about an effort in July, where Hillary Clinton approved an effort to link Trump to Russia, the mob.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    U.S. officials and former intelligence officials tell "PBS NewsHour" the FBI in 2016 considered it might be Russian disinformation. It was rejected by special counsel Robert Mueller and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee.

    And Ratcliffe released the letter, over the objection of career CIA and NSA officials. Democrats accused Ratcliffe of politicizing intelligence.

    Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner released a statement: "It's very disturbing to me, 35 days before an election, the director of national intelligence would release unverified Russian rumored intelligence."

    Ratcliffe said the information was not Russian disinformation, but obtained using sensitive sources and methods. That led to criticism from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    To do that days or weeks before an election, with a patently political purpose, and then reveal that this is based on very sensitive sources and methods, which means that he may have just compromised those sources and methods, it's inexcusable.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Former senior intelligence officials accuse President Trump of installing loyalists who release helpful intelligence and withhold intelligence that's harmful to the president.

    Last Thursday alone, the Department of Justice disclosed documents helpful to President Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, declassified information that cast doubt on the infamous 2016 dossier that tied Trump to Russia, and revealed the case of nine discarded ballots in Pennsylvania, which President Trump used to doubt the election's fairness.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Number two, they cheat. They cheat. Hey, they found ballots in a wastepaper basket three days ago, and they all had the name — military ballots. They were military. They all had the name Trump on them.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In a July ABC News interview, Barr denied he was acting for political reasons.

  • Attorney General William Barr:

    I'd like to hear some examples of people we have charged that they think were unrighteous cases to bring. And, you know, I — I haven't seen any specifics on that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    At the Department of Homeland Security, acting head of intelligence Brian Murphy became a whistle-blower. He said he was pressured to suppress intelligence that would irritate the president and alter reports to reflect the administration's policy.

    The department also withheld an intelligence bulletin warning of a Russian scheme to disparage former Vice President Joe Biden to help the president's campaign. Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said it was withheld because it wasn't good enough.

  • Chad Wolf:

    The report that you referenced was, at the end of the day, a very poorly written report.

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