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By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has agreed to provide in-person briefings on threats to the November election to key members of Congress, backing down from a decision last month to provide that information only in writing.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe has agreed to provide briefings to the Senate and House intelligence committees, according to the heads of those panels.

The move comes after significant pushback from Democrats and some Republicans who said the briefings were more important than ever as the 2020 presidential election approaches and Russia signals it will try to interfere again as it did four years ago.

Acting Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, said in a joint statement Wednesday that Ratcliffe had reaffirmed that the panel will receive “briefings, including in-person, on all oversight topics.”

Rubio told reporters that he expects a briefing next week on election security, though he said he wasn’t sure of the timing. A person familiar with the briefing said Ratcliffe’s office had accepted an invitation to brief the panel behind closed doors. The person discussed the meeting on condition of anonymity because it has not been publicly announced.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff also said in a statement that Ratcliffe's office had on Wednesday committed to the briefings “after extensive public criticism.” Schiff said the panel was working to confirm a date and time.

Still, Schiff said, “these briefings for the intelligence committees must not obviate the need to keep all Members and the American people appropriately and accurately informed about the active threats to the November election.”

Ratcliffe said in August that most briefings would be in writing instead of live, citing what he said were leaks out of “all member” meetings held earlier this year. Democrats said that would prevent members from asking followup questions and allow the administration to limit what information it allows.

Shortly after Rubio and Warner issued their statement, Ratcliffe claimed his position remained “unchanged.”

“I will continue to provide congressional leadership and the intelligence oversight committees appropriate updates to keep Congress fully and currently informed,” Ratcliffe said in his own statement. “In order to protect sources and methods, the IC will not provide all-member briefings, but we will work to provide appropriate updates primarily through written finished intelligence products.”

Ratcliffe met with congressional leadership and the heads of the intelligence committees earlier on Wednesday — a group called the “Gang of Eight” that receives the highest levels of intelligence. He said in the statement that he had shared with them his proposal on how the intelligence community will share election updates in the future.

Over the summer, the nation’s counterintelligence chief, William Evanina, issued a statement saying U.S. intelligence officials believe that Russia is using various methods to denigrate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and that people linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin are boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection bid.

U.S. officials also believe China does not want Trump to win a second term and has accelerated its criticism of the White House, Evanina wrote.

___

Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Eric Tucker and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Reports: FinCEN Documents Show Banks Moved Suspect Funds

Several global banks moved large sums of allegedly illicit funds over a period of nearly two decades, despite red flags about the origins of the money, BuzzFeed and other media reported Sunday, citing confidential documents submitted by banks to the U.S. government.

The media reports were based on leaked suspicious activity reports (SARs), filed by banks and other financial firms with the U.S. Department of Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).  

The SARs, which the reports said numbered more than 2,100, were obtained by BuzzFeed News and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media organizations.

In all, the ICIJ reported that the files contained information about more than $2 trillion worth of transactions between 1999 and 2017, which were flagged by internal compliance departments of financial institutions as suspicious. The SARs are in themselves not necessarily proof of wrongdoing, and the ICIJ reported the leaked documents were a tiny fraction of the reports filed with FinCEN.

Five global banks appeared most often in the documents — HSBC Holdings Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Deutsche Bank AG, Standard Chartered Plc and Bank of New York Mellon Corp, the ICIJ reported.

The SARs provide key intelligence in global efforts to stop money laundering and other crimes. The media reports on Sunday painted a picture of a system that is both under-resourced and overwhelmed, allowing vast amounts of illicit funds to move through the banking system.

A bank has a maximum of 60 days to file SARs after the date of initial detection of a reportable transaction, according to the Treasury Department's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The ICIJ report said in some cases the banks failed to report suspect transactions until years after they had processed them.

The SARs also showed that banks often moved funds for companies that were registered in offshore havens, such as the British Virgin Islands, and did not know the ultimate owner of the account, the report said.

Among the types of transactions highlighted by the report: funds processed by JPMorgan for potentially corrupt individuals and companies in Venezuela, Ukraine and Malaysia; money from a Ponzi scheme moving through HSBC; and money linked to a Ukrainian billionaire processed by Deutsche Bank.

"I hope these findings spur urgent action from policymakers to enact needed reforms," said Tim Adams, chief executive of the trade group Institute of International Finance, in a statement. "As noted in today's reports, the impacts of financial crime are felt beyond just the financial sector – it poses grave threats to society as a whole."

In a statement to Reuters, HSBC said "all of the information provided by the ICIJ is historical." The bank said as of 2012, "HSBC embarked on a multi-year journey to overhaul its ability to combat financial crime across more than 60 jurisdictions."

Standard Chartered said in a statement to Reuters, "We take our responsibility to fight financial crime extremely seriously and have invested substantially in our compliance programs."

BNY Mellon told Reuters it could not comment on specific SARs. "We fully comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and assist authorities in the important work they do," the bank said.

JPM did not immediately respond to a request for comment but said in a statement to BuzzFeed that "thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars are devoted to helping support law enforcement and national security efforts."

In a statement on Sunday, Deutsche Bank said the ICIJ had "reported on a number of historic issues." "We have devoted significant resources to strengthening our controls and we are very focused on meeting our responsibilities and obligations," the bank said.

FinCEN said in a statement on its website on Sept. 1 that it was aware that various media outlets intended to publish a series of articles based on unlawfully disclosed SARs, as well as other documents, and said that the "unauthorized disclosure of SARs is a crime that can impact the national security of the United States."

Representatives for the U.S. Treasury did not immediately respond to an email for comment on Sunday. 

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