Former C.I.A. director John Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee today and refuted the Trump campaign/administration push-back about their contacts with the Russians. Former C.I.A. Chief Reveals Mounting Concern Over Trump Campaign and Russia:
As Russian hackers and propagandists tried to manipulate the American election last year, the C.I.A. noticed a series of suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and associates of Donald J. Trump’s campaign, John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, said Tuesday.
In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Brennan described a nerve-fraying few months as American authorities realized that the election was under attack and worried that Mr. Trump’s campaign might be aiding that fight. His remarks were the fullest public account to date of the origins of an F.B.I. investigation that continues to shadow the Trump administration.
“I know what the Russians try to do. They try to suborn individuals and try to get individuals, including U.S. individuals, to act on their behalf, wittingly or unwittingly,” Mr. Brennan said. When he left office in January, he said, “I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf.”
Mr. Brennan acknowledged that he did not know whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives and said the contacts might be benign. But his confirmation of those contacts was the latest revelation to undermine Mr. Trump’s changing account of his campaign’s links to Russia.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, tried to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and help Mr. Trump. On Aug. 4, as evidence of that campaign mounted, Mr. Brennan warned Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the F.S.B., not to meddle in the election. Not only would interference damage relations between the two countries, he said, it was certain to backfire.
“I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption,” Mr. Brennan said. “I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in election.”
We’ve since discovered that there are a large number of Trump partisans and apologists who are not outraged or thecleast bit bothered by the Russian intereference in the election, a sad commentary on the state of America today.
Mr. Brennan’s warning proved futile. Though intelligence agencies are unanimous in their belief that Russia directly interfered with the election … President Trump has declared that “Russia is fake news” and tried to undermine the conclusions of his own intelligence services.
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During his candidacy, Mr. Trump’s spokeswoman declared that “there was no communication” with foreign entities. And Vice President Mike Pence flatly denied in January that there had been any contacts with Russians. Journalists have since reported repeated undisclosed meetings with Russians. Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign over misstatements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak.
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Mr. Brennan described Russia’s efforts around the world to use politicians to further Moscow’s objectives. “I certainly was concerned that they were practicing the same types of activities here in the United States,” he said.
“I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign, was shared with the bureau,” he said.
The Washington Post adds, CIA director alerted FBI to pattern of contacts between Russian officials and Trump campaign associates:
Brennan’s remarks represent the most detailed public accounting to date of his tenure as CIA director during the alleged Russian assault on the U.S. presidential race, and the agency’s role in triggering an FBI probe that Trump has sought to contain.
“It should be clear to everyone that Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 presidential election process,” Brennan said at one point, one of several moments in which his words seemed aimed squarely at the president.
Trump has refused to fully accept the unanimous conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia stole thousands of sensitive e-mails, orchestrated online dumps of damaging information, and employed fake news and other means to upend the 2016 race.
GOP lawmakers spent much of Tuesday’s hearing trying to get Brennan to concede that he had no conclusive evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Brennan acknowledged that he still had “unresolved questions” about the purpose of those contacts when he stepped down as CIA director in January.
But, “I know what the Russians try to do,” Brennan said. “They try to suborn individuals and they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to act on their behalf either wittingly or unwittingly.”
Brennan refused to name any of the U.S. individuals who were apparently detected communicating with Russian officials. [Because there is an ongoing investigation.]
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Because Russia uses intermediaries and other measures to disguise its hand, “many times, [U.S. individuals] do not know that the individual they are interacting with is a Russian,” Brennan said.
He added that Russian agencies routinely seek to gather compromising information, or ”kompromat,” to coerce treason from U.S. officials who “do not even realize they are on that path until it gets too late.” The remark appeared to be in reference to Flynn.
For a fascinating backgrounder on the possible ”kompromat” of Gen. Michael Flynn, see Martin Longman’s post at the Political Animal Blog. Michael Flynn Is in a World of Pain.
Quick Summary: It involves a Russian-British graduate student, Svetlana Lokhova, whom Flynn met on a trip to Cambridge in February 2014. A historian and a leading expert on Soviet espionage, Lokhova has claimed to have unique access to previously classified Soviet-era material in Moscow. Flynn was taken with her and asked her to accompany him as a translator on his next trip to Russia. The Guardian understands Flynn and Lokhova remained in email contact, conducted through an unclassified channel. In one email exchange described by [Christopher] Andrew [the official MI5 historian], Flynn signed himself as “General Misha,” Russian for Mike. Lokhova denies she is a Russian intelligence officer, but she can’t explain her metamorphosis from being a mistreated employee at the equity sales desk of Sberbank in 2011 to being a uniquely privileged source of GRU intelligence materials in 2014.
Longman discusses several other ”kompromat” theories as well.
Brennan was also asked about Trump’s disclosure of highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting this month. Brennan said that the CIA at times provided tips about terrorist plots to the Kremlin, but he indicated that Trump violated key protocols.
Sensitive information should only be passed through intelligence services, not divulged to foreign ministers or ambassadors, Brennan said. Referring to the information revealed by Trump, Brennan said it had neither gone through “the proper channels nor did the originating agency have the opportunity to clear language for it.”
Brennan was a key figure in the Obama administration’s handling of Russian election interference. As alarm grew, Brennan held classified meetings with top congressional officials in the fall to impress upon them the unprecedented nature of Moscow’s interference.
Later, Brennan was among the top officials who briefed then-President-elect Trump on the scale of Russia’s intervention, and its assessed goal of helping Trump win.
On Tuesday, Brennan testified that he was the first to confront a senior member of the Russian government on the matter, using an August phone conversation with the head of Russia’s security service, the FSB, to warn that the meddling would backfire and damage the country’s relationship with the United States.
Brennan said he told FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov that “American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in the election” and that such activity “would destroy any near-term prospect of improvement” in relations with the United States.
Bortnikov, twice denied that Russia was waging such a campaign, according to Brennan, but said he would carry the message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I believe I was the first U.S. official to brace Russia on this matter,” Brennan said.
The Obama administration went on to issue statements publicly accusing Moscow of election meddling, and in December announced punitive measures including the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the United States.
Despite those warnings and efforts at retaliation, Brennan said that Russia was likely not dissuaded from attempting similar interference operations in the future.
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Brennan has feuded publicly with Trump over the president’s treatment of intelligence agencies. In January, he lashed out at Trump for comparing U.S. spy agencies to Nazi secret police.
Brennan was particularly offended by Trump’s remarks during a speech at CIA headquarters on the day after he was inaugurated. Trump used the CIA’s Memorial Wall — a collection of engraved stars marking the lives of agency operatives killed in the line of duty — to launch a rambling speech in which he bragged about his election victory.
Brennan called the appearance “despicable” and said that Trump should be “ashamed.”