Former CIA Director John Brennan, in testimony Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that he was concerned by some interactions between Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign.
Brennan’s testimony on Russian interference in the election came two months after he was originally scheduled to testify in an open hearing that was unexpectedly canceled by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes. He told the committee that he warned his Russian counterpart, FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov, in an August 2016 phone call against interfering in the presidential election.
Republican Rep. Tom Rooney asked Brennan if he ever found “any direct evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Putin in Moscow” while he was the CIA director.
Brennan replied that “there was intelligence that the Russian intelligence services were actively involved in this effort … to try to get individuals to act on their behalf either wittingly or unwittingly.” He added that he was
“was worried by the contacts that the Russians were having with US persons” and “had unresolved questions” by the time he left office about whether” the Russians had succeeded in getting Americans to do their bidding.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the committee, asked Brennan whether he was concerned by reports that Trump shared classified information with Russian diplomats during a meeting in the Oval Office on May 10.
“If the reports are true that the president decided to share classified intelligence with the Russians, then he violated two protocols,” Brennan replied. “The first is that this kind of intelligence is not shared with visiting foreign ministers or local ambassadors. It’s shared through intelligence channels. The second is that, before sharing any classified intelligence with foreign partners, it has to go back to the originating agency to ensure that revealing it won’t compromise sources, methods, and future collection capabilities.”
Brennan also said he was disturbed by the leaks coming out of the White House, especially the one that identified Israel as the apparent source of the intelligence Trump shared.
Rep. Trey Gowdy asked Brennan, again, whether he had seen evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Brennan replied: “I don’t do evidence.”
Pressed further, however, Brennan said that “the information and intelligence revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and US persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals. It raised questions in my mind about whether the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of such individuals.”
Brennan said he doesn’t know if collusion ever occurred, but he said that he saw “information that was worthy of investigation by the [FBI] to determine whether such collusion took place.” He said the House Intelligence Committee “now has access to the type of information I’m alluding to here.”
The hearing was held one day after The Washington Post reported that Trump had asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers to publicly rebuke former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on March 20 that the Trump campaign was being investigated for possible collusion with Russia.
Trump fired Comey earlier this month, just over nine months into the FBI’s probe of Russia’s hacking and disinformation campaigns that targeted Democrats during the election. That probe began in earnest when Robert Hannigan, then the chief of Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, passed Brennan material related to conversations Trump associates had with suspected or known Russian agents in late 2015 and early 2016, according to The Guardian.
Brennan was so concerned about the intercepted communications that he established a counterintelligence task force, which included the FBI and the National Security Agency. (Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified earlier this month that those communications had been picked up and handed over to US agencies, but he could not elaborate due to the “sensitive” nature of the intelligence.)
“We set up a group within the CIA, and I spoke with [FBI Director] Comey and [NSA Director] Rogers to get their best people involved so that they could share information” with the agency. Brennan said he “wanted to make sure that there would not be any barriers” to sharing information between intelligence and law enforcement officials.
In August — more than eight months after British officials were alerted to the Trump-Russia contacts — Brennan briefed the US’s top lawmakers on the material, which he said showed that Russia had interfered in the US election to help Trump win, The New York Times has reported.
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