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Congressional panel subpoenas top Homeland official in whistleblower probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A congressional intelligence committee has issued a subpoena to compel a senior U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official to testify about accusations that it had meddled in intelligence reports for political purposes.

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The accusation stems from a whistleblower complaint made by former Homeland Security Department intelligence chief Brian Murphy, who has alleged that top DHS officials and a White House official sought to skew intelligence reports.

Adam Schiff, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said he had subpoenaed acting DHS intelligence chief Joseph Maher to testify publicly on Friday. Schiff has said the department was seeking to stall the committee’s investigation into Murphy’s allegations.

Schiff said he also had issued a subpoena to force DHS to turn over “documents, communications, and other records” related to the committee’s probe of Murphy’s allegations.

“Adam Schiff’s claims about DHS stonewalling his committee or obstructing the clearance process are completely false. DHS is doing no such thing and Chairman Schiff, despite the obvious political theater of this subpoena, knows this,” a department spokesman said in a statement.

“In fact, the department has produced nearly 3,000 pages of documents and has provided two briefings and three transcribed interviews to date,” the spokesman said.

Murphy has claimed he was pressured to stop providing assessments of the threat of Russian interference in the Nov. 3 U.S. election and to play down white supremacist activity.

He has also said acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told him in May to instead report on political interference threats posed by China and Iran and highlight the involvement of left-wing groups in domestic disorder.

The DHS has flatly denied Murphy’s accusations.

Schiff originally announced that he planned to take a closed-door deposition from Murphy last week so Murphy could talk about classified material he dealt with while at DHS.

But Murphy’s lawyers say DHS has moved slowly to grant them security clearances they would need to participate in such proceedings, and have also denied him pre-deposition access to all but unclassified materials he worked on.

Mark Zaid, a lawyer for Murphy, said it was still possible Murphy could be deposed by the committee on Friday if security clearances for his lawyers are approved by then.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington, D.C.; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis