July 10, 2020
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Warner, heads of the Senate intelligence committee, voiced their support for whistleblowers on Friday after a former counterterrorism official fired by the Trump administration filed a complaint.
The whistleblower mechanism “is an essential channel for ensuring evidence of wrongdoing rising to the level of an urgent concern is brought to the Committee’s attention,” Republican acting chairman Rubio and Democratic vice chair Warner said in a statement. They did not address a specific complaint.
The senators’ joint statement reflected concern from both Senate Democrats and Republicans over the politicization of U.S. spy agencies under President Donald Trump with the appointments of loyalists to leadership positions.
A congressional source said their statement was prompted by a complaint about political interference in the intelligence process made by Russell Travers, a veteran intelligence officer ousted recently as acting chief of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).
The source, who requested anonymity, said an interview with Travers published on Thursday by Politico mirrors issues raised by Travers in confidential whistleblower complaints now being examined by both the Senate and House Intelligence committees.
Travers confirmed in a telephone interview that he had submitted a whistleblower complaint and that Politico accurately reported his concerns.
Politico quoted Travers as expressing concerns about NCTC’s information technology funding and his firing in March by Richard Grenell, Trump’s then-ambassador to Germany whom the president also appointed this year as acting director of National Intelligence (DNI) for three months.
“I think there are really important questions that need to be addressed, and I don’t think they have been thus far,” Travers told Politico. “And that has me worried, because I do think we could very easily end up back where we were 20 years ago,” a reference to the intelligence coordination failures before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
A spokesman for Carnegie Mellon University, where Grenell now works, said he had no comment. An official at the DNI’s office said that the spy agency “strongly supports whistleblower rights and the rights of whistleblowers to share concerns with Congress.”
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)