WASHINGTON — Senators in both parties voiced frustration after leaving a closed-door briefing Wednesday with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, who declined to show them copies of the classified documents discovered at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and Joe Biden’s office and Delaware home.
Haines also refused to discuss the sensitive material, citing ongoing special counsel investigations, according to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who attending the classified briefing.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was so furious after the briefing that he threatened to block presidential nominees or funding for some federal agencies until the Biden administration shows key lawmakers the classified documents.
“Whether it’s blocking nominees or withholding budgetary funds, Congress will impose pain on the administration until they provide these documents. And that is coming from both parties,” Cotton told reporters.
“I’m prepared to refuse consent or to fast track any nominee for any department or agency and to take every step I can on every committee on which I serve to impose consequences on the administration until they provide these documents for the Congress to make our own informed judgment about the risk to national security.”
Senators were told Wednesday that Biden administration officials cannot brief Congress on a damage assessment of the documents until the special counsels investigating the Trump and Biden documents give the green light.
The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence panel emerged together from the secure briefing room and rejected the administration’s argument.
That’s “not a tenable position,” said Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. “What I think the director heard is she didn’t just hear it from Sen. Rubio and I, literally every member of the committee, without exception, said this won’t stand.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the committee’s vice chair, called it a “very unsatisfying hearing.”
“The bottom line is this: They won’t tell us what they have until the special counsel allows them to tell us. That’s an unacceptable position,” Rubio said.
Warner and others pointed out that the Senate Intelligence panel received regular briefings on Russian interference in the 2016 election at the same time a special counsel was appointed to investigate the matter.
The senators argued that their committee has oversight responsibilities on intelligence matters and that they need to be able to assess whether the discovery of classified documents at Trump and Biden’s unsecure homes and office pose a threat to national security. On Tuesday, news broke that a lawyer for Mike Pence had discovered about a dozen documents at the former vice president’s home in Indiana and had turned them over to the FBI.
“We’ve got a job to do and we’re going to do it,” Warner said.
Wednesday’s briefing with Haines was not scheduled to focus on the documents; it was one of the regular updates she gives the Intelligence Committee. Haines did not make any public statements as she left the briefing in the sensitive compartmented information facility, known as the SCIF.