When James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, testifies behind closed doors on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, he will be the sixth former intelligence official to be dragged before Congress as part of what has become an intense focus of House Republicans. : a single public letter sent during the height of the 2020 presidential campaign.
Republicans have seized the document, signed by 51 former intelligence officials whom the GOP calls the “spies who lie,” as a key piece of evidence for their claims that officials within the federal government have attempted to smear and damage conservatives. They claim the message was written at the behest of President Biden’s allies to distract from lecherous material found on his son Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop, and that it ultimately helped the elderly Mr. .to beat Trump.
In the letter, reported by Politico at the time, former intelligence officials with impressive national security credentials wrote that they believed the laptop’s contents — full of evidence of drug use, prostitution and foreign business dealings — could be part of a Russian disinformation campaign aimed at influencing of the election, although they stressed that they did not know this was true.
Three days later, Mr. Biden quoted the letter at a presidential debate to counter Mr. Trump’s criticism, claiming that “there are 50 former national intelligence people who said what he is accusing me of is a Russian scheme.”
Republicans now say they have found evidence that the letter was part of a Biden campaign operation. According to closed-door testimony and emails, Biden campaign officials, including Antony J. Blinken, now the secretary of state, played a role in drafting the letter. They also said a CIA employee “might” have been involved in getting at least one signature for it.
“The public statement by 51 former intelligence officials was a political operation to help elect Vice President Biden in the 2020 presidential election,” concluded an interim report released last week by the Republican-led House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. The report cited an email saying the letter was intended to create a “talking point to use”.
The report concluded, “The American people deserve to know that Hunter Biden’s laptop and emails were real. They were always real. The allegations that they were the product of Russian disinformation were false.”
The investigation into the letter’s signers comes as Republicans delve into multiple aspects of the Hunter Biden story: why social media companies suppressed it; whether his father was involved in any of his business deals; and whether anyone in the administration interfered with any investigations into the younger Mr. Biden, who is currently under federal investigation.
While Justice Department officials are considering the case, the investigator overseeing the Internal Revenue Service’s portion of the case also raised allegations of political favoritism in the investigation. On Monday, an attorney for that investigator sent a brief letter to Congress saying that the investigator and the rest of his team were being removed from the investigation, which is nearing its end as officials consider whether to prosecute. A spokesman for the president said he is committed to the independence of the Justice Department “free from any political interference by the White House.”
Democrats allege that Republicans are wasting time and resources investigating the 51 former intelligence officials, who were private citizens at the time of the letter and wanted Biden to prevail in the campaign. The former intelligence officials emphasized that their letter stated that they had no evidence of a Russian disinformation campaign and that they were merely expressing an opinion.
Several said they do not regret their actions.
“Congress is wasting its time and our money scrutinizing citizens’ First Amendment rights,” Mark Zaid, an attorney representing seven signatories to the letter, said in an interview.
Democrats also argue that the letter should be understood in context. Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani — whose credibility had become shaky — was shopping the laptop’s contents from various news outlets not long after a top Trump intelligence official warned that Russia was trying “in the first place former Vice President Biden” and that “some Kremlin-affiliated actors are also trying to push President Trump’s candidacy.”
The Democrats also note that five days before the letter’s publication in Politico, Facebook and Twitter decided to censor or limit sharing of an article in the New York Post about the contents of the laptop.
In a statement presented to Congress on behalf of Michael J. Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA, Mr. Morell said he “organized and helped draft” the statement because of his honest and well-founded belief that Russia was involved in somehow in the rise of the Hunter Biden emails aiming to disrupt the 2020 presidential election.
“The public statement was careful not to claim that the New York Post story was misinformation or that the information it reported was untrue, and Mr. Morell was careful to confirm his suspicions with public source information and the views of several experts in the field,” the statement said.
But Republicans hope to escalate the investigation and have scheduled at least two more transcribed interviews. Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also suggested in an interview that he would investigate whether any of the signatories had retained their security clearances and whether Congress could pass legislation to revoke them.
“The 51 people who signed that now famous letter, I’m guessing they probably all had their security clearance?” he said. “Does that make any sense?”