According to Murphy’s testimony, Nielsen and her successor, Chad Wolf, continued to exaggerate the terrorist threat at the border in 2019, while being aware of the real figures.
Murphy’s most serious allegations concern the effort to downplay Russian meddling in the election while it was under way. In May this year, Murphy says, Wolf told him “to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran”.
Wolf told Murphy the orders came from the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien.
“Mr Murphy informed Mr Wolf he would not comply with these instructions, as doing so would put the country in substantial and specific danger,” the whistleblower complaint says.
On 7 July, Murphy was told to stop circulating any information about Russian disinformation efforts until he met Wolf. The next day, according to the complaint, the acting homeland security secretary told Murphy the assessment of the Russian role “should be ‘held’ because it ‘made the president look bad’”.
When Murphy objected, he was excluded from meetings on the subject, and an alternative assessment was leaked to the press which put Russian interference on a par with China and Iran – an equivalence which Murphy, and most intelligence experts, say is not supported by the facts.
“This is a huge deal,” the former National Security Agency lawyer Susan Hennessey wrote on Twitter. “Is [national security adviser] O’Brien directing the [intelligence community] and others to lie about or distort the China election threat to hurt Biden and help Trump?”
Top administration officials, including the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe; the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo; and the attorney general, William Barr, have claimed that China is as big a threat, if not a much greater danger, to the integrity of the US elections than Russia, with the implication that China favours Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden. No substantial evidence has been presented to support that claim, which is contradicted by a vast amount of material, including reports by the special counsel Robert Mueller, and the Republican-led Senate intelligence committee, detailing Russian interference.