Skip to content

Ultraconservatives criticize Turner over ‘threat’ statement

Intraparty argument is latest sign of a split among competing subsets of the GOP on national security issues

In a cryptic statement Wednesday, House Intelligence Chairman Michael R. Turner made mention of a “serious national security threat” that he asked the Biden administration to tell the public about.
In a cryptic statement Wednesday, House Intelligence Chairman Michael R. Turner made mention of a “serious national security threat” that he asked the Biden administration to tell the public about. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ultraconservative House members accused the chamber’s Intelligence Committee chairman on Thursday of hurting national security to advance a legislative agenda.

The intra-GOP argument was the latest sign of a split among competing subsets of the party on national security issues.

One member of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus, Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn., wrote to Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on Thursday to request an inquiry into the fallout from a cryptic Wednesday statement by the Intelligence chairman, Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, about a “serious national security threat” that Turner asked the administration to tell the public about.

Ogles suggested in Thursday’s letter that Turner’s broadly worded disclosure was made to bolster support for more U.S. spending to help Ukraine and for reauthorizing U.S. spy agencies’ electronic surveillance authority — a pair of legislative goals that Freedom Caucus members generally oppose and that more traditional GOP hawks such as Turner largely support. 

“This revelation by the Chairman was done with a reckless disregard of the implications and consequences said information would have on geopolitics, domestic and foreign markets, or the well-being and psyche of the American people,” Ogles wrote. “In hindsight, it has become clear that the intent was not to ensure the safety of our homeland and the American people, but rather to ensure additional funding for Ukraine and passage of an unreformed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).”

In the letter, Ogles called Turner’s statement “poor judgement at a minimum and a complete breach of trust influenced by the pursuit of a political agenda at a maximum.”

Ogles asked Johnson to launch an inquiry into “any impact the Chairman’s statements may have had on U.S. foreign and domestic policy.”

Ogles also requested that Johnson “reassure” Congress and the public that “the processes of the Intelligence Committee have not been corrupted by the very institutions they are charged with monitoring.”

Turner issued a statement Thursday indicating the Intelligence Committee voted 23-1 to make its information on the purported threat available to all House members.

Turner also said the committee worked “in consultation with the Biden Administration to notify Congress of this national security threat” and that “language in the bipartisan notification issued by the Chair and Ranking Member to all Members of the House was cleared by the Administration prior to its release.”

White House officials “confirmed that, in their view, the matter was ‘serious,’” he added.

Russian anti-satellite capability

John Kirby, the president’s national security communications adviser, confirmed Thursday the intelligence was “related to an anti-satellite capability that Russia is developing.”

“This not an active capability that’s been deployed, and though Russia’s pursuit of this capability is troubling, there is no immediate threat to anyone’s safety,” Kirby said. “We are not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth.”

Kirby said that the process of notifications was already underway that would eventually lead the administration to “downgrade and declassify” information about the emerging capability.

“We were already on, sort of, the arc of that process when yesterday this information regrettably found its way into the public domain in the advance of our ability to do this according to process,” Kirby told reporters at the White House.

Kirby said the White House would let Turner speak for himself regarding the decision to let all members get access to the intelligence information.

‘Gaslighting’

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., another critic of Ukraine-related spending and the surveillance law, echoed Ogles’ complaint in a conversation with reporters Thursday.

Gaetz accused Turner of “gaslighting” America with his statement.

“I worry that the motivation to draw so much attention to this is less about intelligence and national security and more about a politician who wants to send $60 billion to Ukraine and wants to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that we want to substantially curtail because of the spying,” Gaetz said.

In Turner’s Wednesday statement, he asked President Joe Biden to declassify all information about the threat to better enable the United States and its allies to respond. 

Turner’s statement did not offer any details about the purported threat. But multiple news organizations reported Wednesday that it concerns an emerging Russian military capability in space, possibly involving nuclear weapons or nuclear energy. 

Kirby’s comments Thursday appeared to confirm at least portions of those reports.

Turner’s statement said his committee was making classified information about the capability available to all House members.  

National security adviser Jake Sullivan was scheduled to brief leaders of the House and Senate and the Intelligence committees on this subject on Thursday.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

Recent Stories

Total eclipse of the Hart (and Russell buildings) — Congressional Hits and Misses

House plans to send Mayorkas impeachment articles to Senate on Tuesday

Harris sticks with Agriculture spending, Amodei likely to head DHS panel

Editor’s Note: What passes for normal in Congress

House approves surveillance authority reauthorization bill

White House rattles its saber with warnings to Iran, China about attacking US allies