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DHS confirms it withheld intel report on Russia denigrating Biden's health, citing "quality concerns"

Washington — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) withheld publication of a July intelligence bulletin to law enforcement agencies warning that Russia may try to undermine Joe Biden's candidacy by denigrating his mental and physical health, citing "quality concerns" about the report's sourcing.

The draft bulletin by DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), which was first reported and published by ABC News, raises concerns that "Russian malign influence actors" would promote allegations about candidates' health "to influence the outcome of the 2020 election." 

The report cites posts by Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik about Biden's mental health between September 2019 and May 2020. In March, a Russian proxy website "refuted media claims that the candidate's gaffes are the result of a stutter, instead arguing these verbal miscues are symptoms of dementia," the bulletin said.

The unclassified bulletin also notes that RT and Sputnik questioned Hillary Clinton's mental and physical health during the 2016 election. The U.S. intelligence community cited RT's negative coverage of Clinton's health in its January 2017 assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

The DHS document also noted that Iranian and Chinese state media, in contrast, "have focused on allegations concerning the mental health of the president." 

The intelligence community has concluded that Russia, China and Iran are all actively interfering in the 2020 election. Bill Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in an August statement that Russia is "using a range of measures to primarily denigrate" Biden. China prefers that President Trump "does not win reelection," Evanina said, while Iran may try to "undermine" democratic institutions and Mr. Trump.

News of the DHS bulletin comes days after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it would cease in-person election security briefings for members of Congress, raising the ire of Democrats who accused the administration of withholding vital intelligence from lawmakers. John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, wrote in a letter to congressional offices that he was ending in-person briefings to prevent "unauthorized disclosures or misuse" of intelligence.

A source familiar with the draft DHS report told CBS News that the memo was withheld it because it was poorly written and thinly sourced. A DHS spokesperson said in a statement that the bulletin "lacked the necessary context and evidence for broader dissemination" outside of the department's intelligence office.

"After briefing the Acting Secretary and he asked questions, I&A career leadership decided to delay the product for further review," the spokesperson said. "These quality concerns in the work process and tradecraft of I&A were also at issue last month when the Acting Secretary took action to remove I&A leadership."

Brian Murphy, the former acting undersecretary for I&A, was reassigned by Acting Secretary Chad Wolf last month after reports revealed his office had gathered intelligence on American journalists.

Trump administration officials have insisted that any foreign actors who attempt to interfere in the upcoming election will face retaliation. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told "Face the Nation" last month that there would be "severe consequences."

"Whether it's China, Russia or Iran, we're not going to put up with it, and there will be severe consequences with any country that attempts to interfere with our free and fair election," O'Brien said.

Andres Triay and Olivia Gazis contributed reporting.

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