“We want there to be a hearing,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the panel’s acting chairman, told POLITICO. “We’re pushing for one. There needs to be one. There always has been one. I think it has to be before we leave before the August recess.”
Rubio added: “We don’t have a date on the calendar yet, but I’m hoping that will change very soon.”
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also requested that Ratcliffe and other top officials testify sometime next month, but he says he has met resistance.
“ODNI has informed the committee that it is unlikely to schedule a World Wide Threats hearing this summer and that they will also likely refuse a hearing in the fall,” Schiff said in a statement to POLITICO. “Although various explanations were provided, the reality is that the intelligence community leaders are afraid of contradicting claims made” by Trump.
Schiff called ODNI’s response “unacceptable.” He said the committee would include language in this year’s annual intelligence authorization bill “to mandate the participation of the [intelligence community] in future.”
In January, Schiff invited then-acting DNI Joseph Maguire and other intelligence leaders to appear before his panel, which has not held a public Worldwide Threats hearing since 2016. The session was ultimately delayed over negotiations on timing and format. Maguire was soon out of office, replaced by the now-former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, until the Senate confirmed Ratcliffe last month.
Neither Rubio or Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, would say if ODNI is resisting coming before lawmakers.
“I don’t think any agency’s ever liked to come before Congress, to be frank. I don’t know if that’s unique to them,” Rubio said. “There are a lot of people in the intelligence community that feel like they’re pawns in the hands of congressional committees, that they’re being used to play political games and further political narratives.”
But “that doesn’t mean they don’t have to come in and testify,” he added. “There will have to be some public component to it.”
“We’re still … making the point that we need to have this Worldwide Threats presentation,” Warner told POLITICO.
Rubio acknowledged that the panel’s request has been complicated by unprecedented restrictions placed on congressional hearings due to Covid-19 and the White House’s own guidance, which prohibits senior officials from testifying unless chief of staff Mark Meadows approves.
Another hurdle is the congressional and 2020 campaign calendars. Lawmakers are in session for only a few weeks in July, before the usual August recess and the October break that allows members to campaign ahead of November’s general election.
In the Democrat-controlled House, in particular, lawmakers worry that the closer the hearing gets to Election Day, the more damage the session, and any cable news clips that spin out from it, would do to the intelligence community’s reputation, which has taken a prolonged beating under Trump.
By September “there’s no way to do something like this without it becoming part of the fall campaign,” a House Intelligence Committee official said. “Frankly … it’s not good for the intel community, which, until recent times, was sort of not part of the political fray in this town,”
Warner said he “agreed” with that assessment, adding that the weeks before the recess “would be the most productive time for all concerned.”
A potentially embarrassing wrinkle for the administration is the fact that Ratcliffe, a former member of the House Intelligence Committee, has publicly committed to testifying at a Worldwide Threats session.
“I will,” the Texas Republican told senators during his confirmation hearing last month.
But he declined to say when he would fulfill that commitment.
“I don’t want to make a commitment in terms of time that I don’t know what I am promising exactly,” he told Warner, who had asked for a global threats hearing to take place within 60 days of Ratcliffe’s confirmation. “What I will make the commitment is that if confirmed I agree that it is important and I will work to make that happen as expeditiously as possible.”
Ratcliffe later said he would provide an unclassified intelligence community assessment to Congress, even if Trump vehemently disagreed with its findings.
“Senator, whether you’re talking about the president, whether you’re talking about Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, anyone’s views on what they want the intelligence to be will never impact the intelligence that I deliver, never,” he said.
Rubio expressed confidence that the GOP-controlled committee will convene a hearing before the recess.
“I have a good relationship with [Ratcliffe],” the Florida Republican told POLITICO. “I talk to him probably every other day.”
An ODNI official said the agency anticipates that Ratcliffe will have some kind of meeting with Senate Intelligence members within the next week or two.
Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee official said the panel would keep pressing for its own hearing.
“The public deserves to hear from the leaders of their intelligence community,” the official said, adding: “If these people operate completely in the shadows, then the public is left to assume the worst. If they see them as flesh and blood human beings, with a sense of humor and, patriotism and loyalty and sort of fidelity to civil liberties, I think it instills confidence.”
In a statement, ODNI spokesperson Susan Meisner said the organization “continues to work with both committees regarding the timing of the worldwide threat assessment hearings.”
“Several challenges have impacted timing, including the DNI leadership transition, fulfilling mission priorities during the pandemic, and the upcoming Congressional recess,” she added. “We have and will continue to hold both in-person and virtual briefings for committee members and their staffs on a variety of subjects.”