The Department of Homeland Security in July withheld an intelligence bulletin warning of a Russian plot to spread misinformation regarding Joe Biden’s mental health, according to a report from ABC News on Wednesday.
In a draft of the bulletin obtained by the network and confirmed by DHS titled “Russia Likely to Denigrate Health of US Candidates to Influence 2020 Election,” analysts said 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. The bulletin, which was produced by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), also raised efforts by China and Iran to criticize President Donald Trump, the network reported.
After news of the bulletin was published, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said his department was working to revise the intelligence report.
“The report that you reference was at the end of the day a very poorly written report,” Wolf said in a Fox News interview. “When I talked to career officials in I&A, in the office that produced the report, they also had questions about it. They’re hard at work on rewriting that report, putting it in some better context and I hope to see that report out soon.”
At the beginning of August, Brian Murphy, who served as the acting under secretary for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, was reassigned after it was revealed his office had gathered intelligence reports on two US journalists.
Wolf said the department is trying to resolve “systemic” issues inside the DHS intelligence office.
“This is the same office, unfortunately, that I had concerns about at the beginning of August, where they put out notices regarding members of the press and leaking information, he said, adding that “we’ll continue also to talk about election security and calling out a number of these nation state actors.”
The bulletin was submitted July 7 to the DHS legislative and public affairs office for review and, according to emails obtained by ABC News, was to be distributed to state, federal and local law enforcement, but not to the public, on July 9. Emails also show, according to the network, that DHS Chief of Staff John Gountanis stopped the bulletin from being sent out.
“Please hold on sending this one out until you have a chance to speak to [acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf],” Gountanis wrote, ABC News reported.
A spokesperson for DHS told CNN in a statement Wednesday that while the agency 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 (I&A).”
“After briefing the Acting Secretary and he asked questions, I&A career leadership decided to delay the product for further review,” the spokesperson said. “These quality concerns in the work process and tradecraft of I&A were also at issue last month when the Acting Secretary took action to remove I&A leadership.”
The spokesperson also said the office of intelligence and analysis is “committed to fulfilling its mission to keep the Homeland safe and secure which included the sharing of three reports on election security in August 2020 with state and local partners.”
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates told CNN in a statement Wednesday evening, “We now know far more about the lengths to which Donald Trump will go to manipulate and conceal intelligence for partisan political purposes, and to strip our country of its defenses against foreign attacks on our democracy.”
“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 continued.
Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday called on the department to produce all documents related to the intelligence bulletin being withheld and accused the department of politicizing the department.
“This is the latest in a series of actions that politically appointed Department leaders have taken to politicize the operations of the Department and skew the intelligence analysis that so many law enforcement officers across the country count on to keep Americans safe,” wrote Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Max Rose of New York to DHS. “It also runs counter to the mission and integrity of any intelligence organization to have its products edited or held up for review by political advisers.”
The lawmakers also called no the department’s inspector general to investigate the issue.
News of the blocked intelligence bulletin comes nearly two months before the 2020 presidential election and amid concern over Russian interference in the election.
In August, US intelligence officials presented information to lawmakers and presidential campaigns signaling that Russia is behind an ongoing disinformation push targeting the former vice president. William R. Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center and the US intelligence community’s top election security official, also said in August that Russia is working to “denigrate” former Biden’s White House bid and China “prefers” an outcome where Trump is not reelected.
“The intelligence assessment that came out in August certainly continues to identify China, Russia and Iran, as not only having the capabilities, but certainly the desire to sow that discourse and try to have that influence in our elections,” Wolf told Fox News when pressed on whether there was an uptick activity.
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc and Sarah Mucha contributed to this report.