Former CIA Director John Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee Monday that Russia may have successfully tried to recruit U.S. persons to influence the 2016 U.S. election.
Brennan said he was aware of intelligence and information that revealed contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign. He couldn’t say, however, whether that the activities amounted to collusion.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, chaired the hearing since the panel’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, recused himself from the Russia probe. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, is the committee’s ranking member.
Brennan is addressed questions in closed session afterward.This marks the committee’s first open hearing the Intelligence Committee is holding since March when former FBI Director James Comey testified about Russia along with NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers.
Brennan asked what he would do if president requested that he stop investigation. The former CIA director said that he has never been asked that.
“I have never been asked that, and if I was, I certainly would not follow such a directive,” he said.
Brennan says he’s aware of intel that revealed contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in Trump campaign
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, asked Brennan whether he saw evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the election. While Brennan said, “I don’t know” whether there was collusion, he said he was “aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about” because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals. He said it raised questions in his mind about whether Russia gained cooperation.
Brennan says Russia is watching Washington closely to exploit
The former CIA director warned that even though the election is over, Russia, and even President Vladimir Putin are watching Washington very closely in order to exploit the situation and further partisan animosity. He said they are trying to actively exploit it “to their benefit and our detriment.”
Brennan says Trump might have violated two protocols in meeting with Russian officials
Schiff asked Brennan about the Oval Office meeting recently in which Trump reportedly shared classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Brennan said that if the press reports are accurate, then it appears that the president violated two protocols. First, he said that intelligence is not shared with visiting foreign ministers or local ambassadors; it’s shared through intelligence channels to ensure that it’s handled correctly. Second, Brennan explained that before sharing classified information with foreign partners, it needs to go back to the originating agency to ensure that the language won’t reveal sources or methods.
“Neither did it go in the proper channels nor did the originating agency have an opportunity to clear the language for it,” Brennan said.
Brennan called the leaks “very, very damaging” and “appalling” and that the people responsibile for leaking the information “need to be tracked down.”
Brennan says he was worried by contacts Russians had with Americans
Brennan was asked if he saw as CIA director intelligence that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
“There was that the Russian intelligence services were actively involved in this effort,” he said.
Brennan said that Russia has had a record of trying to get U.S. persons to act on their behalf “wittingly or unwittingly.”
He said he was “worried” by a number of contacts Russians had with U.S. persons. By the time he left his post in January, he said he had “unresolved questions” in terms of Russians being successful in getting U.S. persons to work on their behalf.