WASHINGTON — Senators from both parties expressed frustration after walking out of a closed-door briefing on Wednesday with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, who refused to show them copies of classified documents discovered at Donald Trump’s resort in Mar -a-Lago and Joe Biden’s office and Delaware home.
Haines also declined to discuss the sensitive material, citing ongoing investigations by a special counsel, according to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who attended the classified briefing.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Was so furious after the briefing that he threatened to block presidential candidates or funding for certain federal agencies until the Biden administration showed key lawmakers the documents classified.
“Whether it’s blocking candidates or withholding budget funds, Congress will inflict pain on the administration until it provides these documents. And that comes from both sides,” Cotton told the journalists.
“I am prepared to withhold consent or expedite any candidate for any department or agency and to take every possible step in every committee I sit on to impose consequences on the administration until they provide these documents to Congress to make our own informed judgment on the national security risk.
Senators were told on Wednesday that Biden administration officials could not notify Congress of an assessment of damage to the documents until the special advocates investigating the Trump and Biden documents gave the go-ahead.
The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Panel walked out of the secure briefing room together and dismissed the administration’s argument.
It’s “not a tenable position,” said Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. “What I think the director heard was that she didn’t just hear it from Senator Rubio and I, literally every member of the committee, without exception, said that wouldn’t hold up.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., vice chairman of the committee, called it a “very unsatisfactory hearing.”
“The bottom line is this: They won’t tell us what they have until the special advocate allows them to tell us. This is an unacceptable position,” Rubio said.
Warner and others pointed out that the Senate Intelligence Panel was receiving regular briefings on Russian interference in the 2016 election at the same time a special counsel was appointed to investigate the matter.
The senators argued that their committee had oversight responsibilities on intelligence matters and that they needed to be able to assess whether the discovery of classified documents in the unsecured homes and offices of Trump and Biden posed a threat to national security. On Tuesday, news broke that an attorney for Mike Pence had discovered 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 will 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 relying on the Justice Department to decide who has access to recovered classified documents.
“Generally, in a criminal investigation or a law enforcement investigation, we wouldn’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 bigger concerns, public safety concerns, national security concerns that make this an exceptional case.”
Wednesday’s briefing with Haines was not scheduled to focus on documents; it was one of the regular updates she gives to the intelligence committee. Haines made no public statement as she left the briefing in the sensitive compartmented information center, known as SCIF.
The harrowing briefing came as lawmakers from both parties and both houses expressed concern and exasperation that the government’s system of tagging and tracking thousands of classified documents appears to be down.
“It seems to be an issue specific to the executive, but we will solve everything. It’s good that Americans are thinking about our national security,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.S.C., the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
“I say nothing bad about the three [Biden, Trump and Pence], but classified information in the wrong hands can create problems for our country and put people at risk. That’s why this stuff is important.