William Barr

National security official ahead of elections removed

The move comes after John Ratcliffe, a Trump loyalist, told Congress his office would no longer give verbal briefings on election security

Bill Barr's latest move ensures that lawmakers will not be able to ask the critical follow-up questions

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US PRESS GROUP

The US attorney general, William Barr, has reportedly removed the head of a section of the justice department entrusted with ensuring the legality of federal counter-terrorism and counterintelligence activities.

The removal of Brad Wiegmann, a deputy assistant attorney general, first reported by ABC News, has not been explained, but it comes amid rising Democratic concerns that Barr and his justice department will seek to influence the conduct of the November elections in Donald Trump’s favour.

It comes less than three days after the director of national intelligence, another Trump loyalist, John Ratcliffe, told Congress his office would no longer provide legislators with verbal briefings on election security, only a written report without the opportunity to follow up with questions.

Wiegmann, 54, a 23-year public service veteran, ran the office of law and policy in the national security section of the justice department, until he was reassigned two weeks ago.

He is being replaced by a 36-year old cyber-crimes prosecutor, Kellen Dwyer, with very little relevant experience, whose name made the news in November 2018 when he accidentally revealed that the US had charged the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

The justice department did not immediately return a request for comment.

“It’s a very odd choice and it’s odd timing and it’s really difficult to explain,” said Katrina Mulligan, who worked in the law and policy office in the Trump administration and in a number of national security roles in the Obama administration. “This office is really charged with a very specific responsibility, which is to represent the Department of Justice interest in the national security policymaking process.”

The timing and lack of explanation for the move raised alarm with just over two months to go before the election, amid the accelerating politicisation of national security issues and the threat to the integrity of the election. The administration has emphasised the role of China, which it says favours a win for Joe Biden. Democrats, and most election security experts, say the Russians are much more aggressive in their meddling, and favour Trump.

Ratcliffe blamed his decision to end verbal briefings on congressional leaks.

“We’ve had a pandemic of information being leaked out of the intelligence community and I’m going to take the measures to make sure that stops,” he said.

“John Ratcliffe was installed in the post of DNI not because of his intelligence experience or broader national security expertise; he had little to speak of. Instead, he auditioned for the role by fashioning himself as Trump’s attack dog and defender,” said Ned Price, a former CIA official and national security council spokesman.

“His latest move ensures that lawmakers will not be able to ask the critical follow-up questions about details and nuance that can be so vital to understanding an intelligence assessment – let alone conducting oversight and legislating.”

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