NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE H ouse Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) set off another media frenzy this week when he announced a new whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration — without mentioning that, just days before, he had accused that same whistleblower of “deeply troubling” professional misconduct and lying to Congress in an attempt to cover it up.
Schiff said Wednesday that his committee had received a complaint from Brian Murphy, the former acting head of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence unit, alleging “grave,” “disturbing,” and “serious” misconduct within the unit.
“We will get to the bottom of this, expose any and all misconduct or corruption to the American people, and put a stop to the politicization of intelligence,” he promised, revealing that the House Intelligence Committee had subpoenaed the witness for a closed-door hearing on September 21.
According to Murphy, DHS’s leadership has, for years, manipulated intelligence reports to serve the political interests of President Trump. Murphy claims that acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, the agency’s second-highest ranking official, have repeatedly requested that Murphy “censor or manipulate” his office’s assessments to downplay the threat of Russian election interference and white-supremacist terrorism.
In his announcement, Schiff said Murphy was aiding an “ongoing investigation into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A).” But he failed to mention that his latest “whistleblower” began as the target of the probe after allegedly lying about his office’s surveillance of Americans in Portland.
The investigation began after the Washington Post reported that Murphy’s office had compiled and disseminated intelligence reports on journalists who published leaked DHS documents related to the nightly Portland, Ore., riots. The dossiers compiled by Murphy’s unit also reportedly detailed communications sent by protesters in encrypted communication apps.
At the time, Schiff and other Democrats said they were concerned about the revelations, in part because Murphy had told them in congressional briefings that his office was not monitoring the communications of Portland protesters.
“In light of recent public reports, we are concerned that Murphy may have provided incomplete and potentially misleading information to Committee staff during our recent oversight engagement,” Schiff said August 1. That same day, the Post revealed that Wolf had decided to remove Murphy from his position. “Recently, Murphy tried to broaden the definition of violent protesters in Portland, in a way that some officials felt was intended to curry favor with the White House,” the paper reported.
On August 3, Schiff wrote to Wolf to announce his investigation into I&A, saying that the news of Murphy’s office’s “monitoring of peaceful protesters, creating and disseminating intelligence reports about journalists and protesters, and potential exploitation of electronic devices is deeply troubling.”
Schiff’s office did not return a request for comment to clarify whether Schiff still had doubts about Murphy’s credibility. But now that Murphy has made himself useful to Schiff, the mainstream media have begun whitewashing Murphy’s past.
Following Schiff’s lead, multiple outlets have either conspicuously ignored the fact that Murphy came forward only after Schiff opened an investigation into his actions as head of I&A and accused him of lying to Congress about those actions — or disregarded the whole backstory altogether.
CBS, the Associated Press, and the Post all quoted Schiff’s new press release but did not include his prior concerns that Murphy had lied to Congress — though the Post did cite anonymous former officials who called Murphy a “flawed messenger” over his record as “a poor manager and the source of low morale in his office.” Meanwhile, NBC News didn’t even cite the reporting on Murphy’s office compiling dossiers in the buildup to his removal.
In an interview with ABC, Schiff was not asked about his prior investigation into Murphy. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer elected to ask Schiff to “respond” to President Trump — who claimed the new complaint “sounds like a Schiff” — rather than pose his own question.
“He actually asked if you, if you, were the whistleblower,” an incredulous Blitzer stated, apparently forgetting that his own network found Schiff had misled the public last year when he claimed on live television that his office had “not spoken directly with” the impeachment whistleblower.
“The whistleblower complaint that we just got is a very serious one,” Rep. Adam Schiff says on the complaint, which accuses Trump appointees of downplaying Russian interference. Schiff says the allegations are “dangerous” and “inexcusable.” https://t.co/OeqowWZFZy pic.twitter.com/3VjNjEThB2
— CNN (@CNN) September 11, 2020
“It’s one absurdity heaped upon another absurdity,” Schiff replied. “The whistleblower complaint that we just got is a very serious one.”
While the veracity of the underlying allegations remains unclear — DHS has denied them and Murphy’s lawyers have already had to issue a factual correction to the complaint — Murphy’s complaint does attempt to address the concerns about his record. When reportedly asked by Wolfe and/or Cuccinelli to mirror the president’s rhetoric and say that Antifa and anarchists were instigating unrest, Murphy says he “declined to modify any of the intelligence assessments based upon political rhetoric.” But a July email published by Lawfare’s Ben Wittes — one of the journalists reportedly targeted by DHS — shows Murphy telling his staff that they were to start defining those causing violence in Portland as Antifa, based on “overwhelmingly [sic.] intelligence.”
As to the Post’s reporting on his office’s activities, Murphy says it is “significantly flawed and, in many instances, contained completely erroneous assertions,” stating that his team “never knowingly or deliberately collected information on journalists, at least as far as [he] is aware or ever authorized.” That Schiff cited said reporting to open his original investigation into the matter — and used it to substantiate his claim that Murphy lied to Congress — is apparently immaterial.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated after it incorrectly stated that Politico did not mention the DHS dossiers in its reporting on Murphy.