Whistleblower alleges top Trump appointees abused authority by telling officials to alter intelligence to match Trump claims

Specifically, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Ken Cuccinelli, both Trump appointees, directed officials to change intelligence assessments based on Trump’s political rhetoric, an order the whistleblower says amounted to an abuse of authority, according to the documents.

Both Wolf and Cuccinelli also tried to alter a report to downplay the threat posed by White supremacists and instead emphasize the role of leftist groups due to concerns about how the initial language would reflect on the President, according to a source familiar with the claims raised by the whistleblower.

DHS did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment regarding allegations that Wolf and Cuccinelli ordered officials to change intelligence assessments for political reasons but have broadly denied either man took actions that constitute as an abuse of power, as stated in the complaint.

Separately, the complaint says, Cuccinelli expressed frustration with intelligence reports detailing conditions in Guatamala, Honduras and El Salvador, late last year and accused “deep-state intelligence analysts” of compiling the information to undermine Trump’s objectives regarding asylum, according to the documents reviewed by CNN.

The allegations were raised in a complaint filed recently by Brian Murphy to the DHS inspector general, according to the source. Murphy previously oversaw the intelligence division at the department but was reassigned this summer after it was revealed his office had gathered intelligence reports on two US journalists.

If true, the move marks yet another example of Trump officials attempting to adjust or minimize intelligence that does not align with the administration’s political priorities.

The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee has requested Murphy testify about the claims detailed in his complaint, which “alleges repeated violations of laws and regulations, abuses of authority, attempted censorship of intelligence analysis and improper administration of an intelligence program related to Russian efforts to influence the US elections,” according to a letter sent to Murphy’s lawyers Wednesday.

DHS official says he refused to change intel reports

Murphy says that he refused to modify intelligence assessments so that they more closely aligned with Trump’s rhetoric about Antifa and other groups, telling Wolf and Cuccinelli that he would only report accurate information as collected by DHS, according to the complaint.

He also refused to alter the draft versions of the report warning of the threat posed by White supremacists, prompting Wolf and Cuccinelli to halt work on the document, the complaint states.

The move to block the final report came in July from Wolf and Cuccinelli, the source familiar with the issue said.

Murphy first argued with Cuccinelli then Wolf, pushing back against changes to the draft version of the report that would have watered-down language pertaining to White supremacists and added additional information about leftist groups like those the Trump administration has portrayed as a top threat to the US ahead of the November presidential election, according to the complaint.

When Murphy refused to implement the changes as directed, Cuccinelli and Wolf stopped the report from being finished, the source said.

Drafts of the report, first published by the national security website Lawfare, show that an initial description of White supremacists “presenting the most lethal threat” to the homeland was changed in subsequent drafts to say “domestic violent extremists.” The language about the White supremacist threat varies slightly in the different drafts but they all state it is the deadliest.

It has not been known until now why the changes were made.

DHS spokesperson Alexei Woltornist denied the allegations about Wolf and Cuccinelli related to the report on White supremacists, telling CNN: “These allegations are patently untrue. DHS leadership has called out all threats to the homeland regardless of ideology.”

CNN also reached out to DHS for comment from Murphy but did not receive an immediate response.

‘Greatest terrorist threat to the Homeland’

Wolf did address the threat posed by White supremacists Wednesday while delivering his “State of the Homeland” address, saying: “DHS stands in absolute opposition to any form of violent extremism. Whether by white supremacist extremists or anarchist extremists,” he said.

But news of the whistleblower allegations come amid widespread concerns about politicization within DHS and indications that the agency has suppressed other intelligence that is politically inconvenient for the President.

They also surface at a time when Trump and his top officials, most notably Attorney General William Barr, have emphasized the threat posed by leftist groups like Antifa, but rarely mentioned right-wing groups involved in some of the violence during recent protests in the US.

Barr has created a task force to study the group’s infrastructure, but prosecutors haven’t specifically tied charges to the movement.

Trump himself has regularly downplayed the threat of White supremacist violence during his presidency, most notably when he said there were some “fine people” among the extremists who sparked violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. He’s also called Black Lives Matter a “symbol of hate” and has regularly pushed narratives on Twitter that emphasize violence against White Americans as he seeks to curry support in the suburbs.

Officials in his administration, however, have warned against White supremacist extremism.

White supremacy is 'most lethal threat' to the US, DHS draft assessment says
Last year, CNN reported that White House officials rebuffed efforts by their DHS colleagues for more than a year to make combating domestic terror threats, such as those from White supremacists, a greater priority as specifically spelled out in the National Counterterrorism Strategy.
Then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said last year White supremacist extremism is one of the most “potent ideologies” driving acts violence in the US, when he released the department’s counterterrorism strategy, outlining the ongoing threats from foreign terrorism and focusing on domestic terror threats, particularly White supremacists.

“In our modern age, the continued menace of racially based violent extremism, particularly White supremacist extremism, is an abhorrent affront to the nation, the struggle and unity of its diverse population,” he said in a speech at the Brookings Institution almost a year ago.

The threat assessment was prompted by a 2019 DHS counterterrorism strategy that called for annual reports to inform government officials and the public.

The earliest available version of the “State of the Homeland Threat Assessment 2020” drafts reads: “We judge that ideologically-motivated lone offenders and small groups will pose the greatest terrorist threat to the Homeland through 2021, with white supremacist extremists presenting the most lethal threat.”

The lead section on terror threats to the homeland is changed in the latter two drafts to replace “white supremacist extremists” with “Domestic Violent Extremists presenting the most persistent and lethal threat.”

The reports, however, all contain this language: “Among DVEs [Domestic Violent Extremists], we judge that white supremacist extremists (WSEs) will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland through 2021.”

Lawfare’s editor in chief Benjamin Wittes published the documents because he wanted there to be a “benchmark about what the career folks at DHS actually assessed the threats to be against” the final product that is released by the department.

He told CNN that “the most striking thing is in this political atmosphere; they have said what they said” — that White supremacist violence is the threat they are most concerned about.

“I don’t want to criticize them when that language is there. That said it is somewhat different in the first draft than the subsequent two and I do think the nature of the change is notable as a reflection of the political pressure they are under,” he said.

CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed reporting.

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