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Report: DHS withheld intel report of Russia discrediting Biden’s mental health; Wolf says report had inaccuracies

Joe Biden delivers remarks during a campaign speech. (Joe Biden/Released)
September 03, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security drafted, but never circulated an intelligence bulletin detailing Russian efforts to discredit Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s mental health, according to internal emails and draft documents provided to ABC News.

ABC News reported the draft bulletin was titled “Russia Likely to Denigrate Health of US Candidates to Influence 2020 Election,” and reportedly described Russian efforts to discredit Biden. The bulletin was reportedly drafted and submitted on July 7 for pre-publication review, but DHS Chief of Staff John Gountanis intervened to stop its publication.

“Please hold on sending this one out until you have a chance to speak to [acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf],” Gountanis said, according to leaked emails.

According to ABC, the report was not intended for public dissemination but would have been distributed among DHS and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Following a request for comment, a DHS spokesperson told ABC the bulletin was delayed because it failed to meet the agency’s standards for review. The DHS spokesperson said the bulletin “lacked the necessary context and evidence for broader dissemination.”

In comments to Fox News, Wolf confirmed the existence of the report but said some of the accusations it contained were “completely inaccurate.”

“The report that you reference was at the end of the day a very poorly written report. I had questions about it. When I talked to career officials in I&A [the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis], in the office that produced the report, they also had questions about it.”

The draft bulletin however states 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.”

Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security during the Trump administration, told ABC News, “High confidence means what it sounds like — that they are highly confident that their assessment is accurate and they don’t use that language very often,”

President Donald Trump and his allies have for several months launched attacks questioning Biden’s fitness for office. Trump has frequently sought to brand Biden as “Sleepy Joe” and in one August 2019 example, Donald Trump Jr. retweeted a video of Biden appearing to confuse details about the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, during a campaign event.

“Sleepy Joe must have missed nap time again!” President Trump’s son tweeted.

The allegation that the DHS report was withheld comes amid concerns intelligence is being presented or withheld for political purposes.

John Cohen, an ABC News contributor and former undersecretary for intelligence at DHS under President Barack Obama said, “We are hearing concerns being raised publicly that, in this administration, intelligence community reporting is being modified or blocked for political reasons — or to not anger the president.”

“By blocking information from being released that describes threats facing the nation,” Cohen added, “it undermines the ability of the public and state and local authorities to work with the federal government to counteract the threat.”

The allegation Russia is seeking to discredit Biden’s mental health and fitness comes after the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a report in August, describing Russian, Iranian and Chinese efforts to sway the U.S. election. The DNI report claims Russia is focused on harming Biden’s campaign to Trump’s benefit, while Iran and China would prefer that Trump lose the election. While the DNI report makes no references to Russian lines of attack regarding Biden’s mental health, the report did assess Russian efforts to promote allegations of corrupt interactions between Biden and Ukrainian officials.

In a comment to ABC News, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said, “We don’t need or want any foreign interference.”

““There’s no question that the President has been tougher on Russia than any president before him, imposing sanctions and expelling diplomats, in contrast to the Obama-Biden Administration, which choked in the face of Russian interference,” Murtaugh said. “President Trump will beat Joe Biden fair and square.”

Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates, however, decried the efforts he believes “Donald Trump will go to manipulate and conceal intelligence for partisan political purposes.”

“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. “And why would he do this? Because Russia and the Trump campaign are speaking from the same script of smears and lies.”