Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee emerged outraged from a two-hour secure briefing with Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines, threatening to grind the chamber’s business to a halt if the Biden administration does not provide access to the classified documents seized from the current president and former President Donald Trump.
Senators in both parties have claimed the administration is refusing to let them see the materials, even blocking lawmakers with the highest security clearance, like Senate Intelligence Committee members, while the special counsel probes are ongoing over how Biden and Trump handled the classified records while out of office.
“I’m very disappointed with the lack of detail and a timeline on when we’re going to get a briefing, not on anything dealing with criminality — that’s an appropriate Department of Justice responsibility — but it is our responsibility to make sure that we, in our role as intelligence oversight, know if there’s been any intelligence compromise,” Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va, said in a rare rebuke of the administration.
“Every member of the committee, regardless of Democrat or Republican, [was] unanimous in that this position that we are left in … until somehow a special counsel designates that it’s OK for us to get briefed is not going to stand,” Warner said. “And all things will be on the table to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he warned.
The bipartisan outrage could paralyze the work of the Senate, should senators make good on their threats in a chamber where it takes the unanimous agreement of every member to move onto bills, take up nominees and more.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a panel member, echoed Warner’s threat and took it a step further: He said he is prepared to block nominees, withhold funding for government programs and “take every step I can” to impose consequences on the administration until the classified documents are provided.
“Until the administration stops stonewalling Congress, there will be pain as a consequence,” Cotton said.
A spokesperson for the White House counsel’s office referred a request for comment on this criticism to the Department or Justice or the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Neither office for the special counsels investigating Biden and Trump immediately responded to requests for comment.
Federal authorities have said classified materials were found at both Biden and Trump’s homes and were retained after both men left office — in Biden’s case, in the years after he was a senator and vice president and before he was elected president in 2020.
The contents of the documents remain unclear and lawmakers say an intelligence review is key to understanding what problems may have been created by the handling of the records.
Cotton on Wednesday called the administration’s special counsel concerns a “farce,” pointing to the intelligence panel’s past review of sensitive, top-secret information related to the Russia collusion probe while special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was ongoing.
“There’s no reason why Congress cannot review these documents in a secure, classified setting so we can make an assessment about what damage it may have caused to national security,” Cotton said.
Warner concurred — in an exceedingly rare moment of agreement with Cotton. During the Russia investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee was given rare access to the most sensitive documents, Warner said.
“Our committee got those briefings, in certain cases because we had the trust of the intelligence community — had access to even raw intelligence — but it was handled appropriately,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure that we make that intelligence assessment of whether our nation’s security has been compromised.”
While Congress has been seeking a risk assessment since the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in August, Cotton said a risk assessment won’t be enough to satisfy his concerns.
“I think, ultimately, we will get a damage assessment. The real question in my mind though is: Do we have the underlying document on which that assessment is for or are we expected to take on face what the DNI has concluded or what the FBI has concluded?” he said.
The committee’s vice chair, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, added to the bipartisan agreement, dismissing as “untenable” the position that the DNI has taken on keeping documents out of the hands of Congress.
“It cannot be that your answer is that we can’t tell you what was discovered until the special counsel allows us to. The information we’re asking for has no bearing whatsoever, that would interfere in no way, with a criminal investigation,” he said.
Regardless of the standoff over documents, lawmakers of every stripe said it’s time for Congress to consider legislative changes to the current, “broken” system.
“We’ve got to fix this for all folks leaving government, for those inside government, on how they deal with documents,” Warner said. “This has been kind of a problem that’s been bubbling for some time. It’s now playing out in real time, and our committee is going to take it up and [there is] broad agreement that this needs to be addressed.”
ABC News’ Alexander Mallin and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.