iStock/bpperryBY: BENJAMIN SIEGEL, JOSH MARGOLIN, and LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN
(WASHINGTON) — The former chief of intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security has filed a whistleblower complaint describing repeated instances in which he claims the Trump administration sought to “censor or manipulate” intelligence for political purposes.
ABC News has obtained a copy of the complaint, filed Tuesday with the DHS inspector general by Brian Murphy, a former acting chief of the agency’s intelligence branch. It alleges a pattern of behavior ranging from “attempted abuse of authority” to possible violations of federal law perpetrated by some of the administration’s senior-most figures in law enforcement and intelligence.
According to Murphy, those leaders attempted to “censor or manipulate the intelligence information” connected to Russia’s interference in U.S. elections, the threat posed by domestic white supremacy groups, and statistics about terrorist entries along the southern border.
Over the course of 24 pages, Murphy describes an environment in which senior officials – including former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, current acting Secretary Chad Wolf, and current Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli – scrambled to gather and prepare intelligence reports that aligned with President Donald Trump’s political message and public remarks.
In one example dating back to May, Murphy claims he was “instructed” by Wolf “to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran.”
A DHS spokesperson did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment about the complaint, but in a speech on Wednesday Wolf defended the agency against allegations of politicization.
“Admist the shifting series of challenges, a vocal and ill-informed minority has clamored to paint recent DHS actions as examples of mission drift or politicization,” he said. “They could not be more wrong.”
Attorneys now representing Murphy, who was reassigned in August to the management division, encouraged the DHS inspector general to launch an investigation into the matters described in the complaint and what Murphy says were retaliatory actions taken against him for pushing back.
“A thorough investigation will establish that the actions taken or threatened to be taken against Mr. Murphy were done in reprisal for his protected disclosures,” the complaint read.
On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ordered Murphy to appear before his committee later this month.
In a letter to Murphy’s legal team, Schiff wrote that the complaint “depicts a sustained and disturbing pattern of misconduct by senior Trump Administration officials.”
Murphy’s complaint is likely to fuel concern from critics of the administration that the president and his appointees have sought to politicize the intelligence community.
“These allegations, while disturbing, are not surprising,” said John Cohen, a former senior Homeland Security official during the Obama administration,
“There have been long-standing concerns amongst law enforcement and intelligence professionals that under the Trump Administration, intelligence that contradicts the political narrative of the White House is routinely ignored distorted or blocked from release in order to justify Administration policies that had previously been viewed as unjustifiable,” Cohen added.
A committee official noted that some of the events alleged in the complaint took place as the Trump administration sought to limit in-person election security briefings for House lawmakers.
Last week, ABC News first reported on a draft intelligence bulletin warning of a Russian effort to spread disinformation about Joe Biden’s mental health that was initially withheld by senior Homeland Security officials.
In his complaint, Murphy claims that Wolf told him “the intelligence notification should be ‘held’ because it ‘made the President look bad.’”
In response to the original ABC News report, a spokesperson for DHS said the report was delayed because it did not meet the agency’s standards.
Last month, Murphy was removed from his post at the DHS intelligence branch and reassigned within the agency after The Washington Post reported that his unit put out three reports to its vast law enforcement network containing two journalist’s tweets about documents that were leaked from the department.
In his complaint, Murphy claims this “de facto demotion” occurred shortly after he confronted Wolf and Cuccinelli with “concerns that he was being ordered to manipulate intelligence for political reasons.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.