The former director of the CIA, John Brennan, told top lawmakers last August that the agency had information to suggest that unnamed associates of President Donald Trump were working with Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton during the election, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
The CIA obtained evidence of Russia’s efforts to help then-candidate Trump early last summer, the Times reported, and concluded before the FBI did that Russia’s goal was not just to undermine the election but to specifically boost Trump’s chances of winning.
Whereas the CIA was fairly confident by late August in its assessment that the Russians were working to boost Trump, the FBI did not draw that conclusion publicly until early December. Because the CIA deals exclusively with foreign intelligence, it did not have the authority to announce the evidence it apparently had of such collusion.
So Brennan indicated to lawmakers that “the FBI, in charge of domestic intelligence, would have to lead the way,” the Times reported.
Brennan was supposed to testify about Russia’s election interference before the House Intelligence Committee last month, but the hearing was canceled by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes. Nunes, a California Republican who served on Trump’s transition team, stepped aside from the committee’s Trump-Russia probe on Thursday amid an ethics investigation into whether he improperly disclosed classified information.
A number of reports have emerged since January about previously undisclosed contact between members of Trump’s inner circle — including top adviser Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — and Russian officials during the election. The FBI has apparently been examining these and other contacts since July 2016, but only announced last month that its investigation into Russia’s election meddling will also examine Trump and his associates.
Former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who had been briefed by Brennan, urged the FBI early to publicly disclose what information it had about Trump’s ties to Russia.
In late August, just after he was briefed by Brennan, Reid asked Comey to warn Americans about Russia’s election interference, which he said was “more extensive than is widely known and may include the intent to falsify official election results.”
Reid sent another letter in late October, just after a letter Comey sent to Congress — indicating not that the FBI was examining the Trump-Russia ties but that it was reexamining the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server — was made public.
“Your actions in recent months have demonstrated a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information, with what appears to be a clear intent to aid one political party over another,” Reid wrote.
“In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity,” he added.
The revelation that the CIA had intelligence suggesting collusion occurred between Russia and the Trump campaign — but could not act on it because domestic intelligence is under the FBI’s purview — aligns with reports that a counterintelligence task force was set up as early as last April to investigate whether any money was exchanged between the Kremlin and Trump campaign associates.
The task force included the CIA, the FBI, the Treasury and Justice Departments, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Security Agency (NSA), according to the BBC and McClatchy. It was established after Brennan received a recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into Trump’s campaign coffers, according to those reports. The recording was then passed to the CIA by the intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States, according to the BBC.
The FBI was also in possession, around that time, of an explosive but unverified dossier about Russia’s attempts to cultivate Trump and his associate as foreign assets. The
FBI is now using that dossier as
a “roadmap” for its investigation into Russia’s election interference, according to the BBC’s Paul Wood.
The FBI has worked in the past with the author of the dossier, Christopher Steele, who cultivated an extensive network of Russian sources during his time on MI6’s Moscow desk, according to Wood. The former spy apparently worked with the FBI on Russia- and Ukraine-related matters between 2013 and 2016 — specifically with the FBI’s Eurasian Joint Organised Crime Squad, according to a lengthy profile in Vanity Fair.
The FBI now has information to suggest that the Trump campaign “communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” CNN reported last month — a “quid-pro-quo” that had been outlined in Steele’s dossier, written between June and December of last year.
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