Ex-CIA di­rec­tor tells Congress he warned Rus­sia about med­dling with U.S. elec­tion last sum­mer

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - EILEEN SUL­LI­VAN AND DEB RIECHMANN

WASH­ING­TON — Former CIA di­rec­tor John Bren­nan told Congress Tues­day he per­son­ally warned Rus­sia last sum­mer against in­ter­fer­ing in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and was so con­cerned about Rus­sian con­tacts with peo­ple in­volved in the Trump cam­paign that he con­vened top counter-in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials to fo­cus on it.

Bren­nan’s tes­ti­mony to the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee was the clear­est pub­lic de­scrip­tion yet of the sig­nif­i­cance th­ese con­tacts play in counter-in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tions that con­tinue to hang over the White House.

Bren­nan, who was Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s CIA di­rec­tor, said he couldn’t say whether there was col­lu­sion be­tween Rus­sia and the Trump cam­paign, an is­sue be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the FBI and con­gres­sional com­mit­tees.

“I don’t have suf­fi­cient in­for­ma­tion to make a de­ter­mi­na­tion about whether or not such co-op­er­a­tion or com­plic­ity or col­lu­sion was tak­ing place,” Bren­nan said. “But I know there was a ba­sis to have in­di­vid­u­als pull those threads.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has pre­dicted the in­ves­ti­ga­tions won’t find col­lu­sion, and his ef­forts to cast doubt and curb the probes have led to the ap­point­ment of a spe­cial coun­sel at the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

News re­ports that Trump asked his na­tional in­tel­li­gence di­rec­tor and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency chief to state pub­licly there was no ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion have height­ened crit­i­cism.

Dan Coats, the cur­rent U.S. di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence, de­clined to com­ment Tues­day on a Wash­ing­ton Post re­port that said the pres­i­dent had asked him to pub­licly deny any col­lu­sion be­tween Rus­sia and Trump’s cam­paign.

Coats told sen­a­tors at a sep­a­rate hear­ing that it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate to dis­cuss pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with the pres­i­dent.

Nev­er­the­less, Mark Warner of Vir­ginia, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, said Coats and NSA di­rec­tor Mike Rogers should pro­vide ex­pla­na­tions.

A day ear­lier, Trump’s first na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn, in­voked his con­sti­tu­tional right not to in­crim­i­nate him­self in re­sponse to the Se­nate com­mit­tee’s re­quest for de­tails about in­ter­ac­tions be­tween him and the Rus­sians. Trump as­so­ci­ates Paul Manafort and Roger Stone have pro­vided the com­mit­tee with in­for­ma­tion, while former cam­paign ad­viser Carter Page has not.

“I can only say I have fully com­plied with their spe­cific re­quest,” Stone told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an email Tues­day. He said he told the com­mit­tee he re­mains ready to tes­tify with­out im­mu­nity and in pub­lic.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors also have ques­tions about con­tacts be­tween the Rus­sians and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kush­ner and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions.

Bren­nan said he had seen in­tel­li­gence that “re­vealed con­tacts and in­ter­ac­tions” be­tween Rus­sian of­fi­cials and Amer­i­cans “in­volved” in the Trump cam­paign. He said this was cause for con­cern “be­cause of known Rus­sian ef­forts to sub­orn such in­di­vid­u­als, and it raised ques­tions in my mind, again, whether or not the Rus­sians were able to gain the co-op­er­a­tion of those in­di­vid­u­als.”

In late July of last year there was so much con­cern that he con­vened a group of of­fi­cials from the CIA, FBI and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency to fo­cus on it ex­clu­sively.

“The pur­pose was to en­sure that ex­perts in key agen­cies had ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and in­tel­li­gence rel­e­vant to Rus­sian ac­tions so that we could have as full an ap­pre­ci­a­tion as pos­si­ble on the scope, na­ture, and in­ten­tions of this Rus­sian ac­tiv­ity,” Bren­nan said.

He said he per­son­ally warned the Rus­sians in Au­gust to stop in­ter­fer­ing in the U.S. demo­cratic process, telling a se­nior Rus­sian se­cu­rity of­fi­cial that con­tin­ued med­dling would back­fire and pre­vent any warm­ing of re­la­tions.

He said the Rus­sian of­fi­cial de­nied such in­ter­fer­ence but also said he would re­lay the con­cern to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Trump, cur­rently on a nine-day in­ter­na­tional trip, has had his own con­ver­sa­tions with the Rus­sians ques­tioned in light of re­ports that he shared ex­tremely clas­si­fied in­tel­li­gence with Rus­sian diplo­mats in the Oval Of­fice on May 10.

Bren­nan said that while he was CIA di­rec­tor he shared clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion with Rus­sia and other na­tions about threats re­lated to ter­ror­ism. But if re­ports about what Trump shared with the Rus­sians are true, he said, it would be a vi­o­la­tion of pro­to­col. This type of in­for­ma­tion is typ­i­cally shared in in­tel­li­gence chan­nels and not be­tween the U.S. pres­i­dent and for­eign diplo­mats, Bren­nan said.

DREW ANGERER, GETTY IMAGES

Former CIA di­rec­tor John Bren­nan tes­ti­fies be­fore the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence on Capi­tol Hill on Tues­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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