Russians looking to influence the 2016 presidential election – to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump – reached out to members of Trump’s campaign last summer, former CIA Director John Brennan testified today before the House Intelligence Committee.
Brennan stopped just short of saying there was “collusion” with the Trump campaign, but only because he could not be sure of how deeply members of Trump’s campaign became involved as Russia “brazenly interfered” with the American election process.
“I encountered and am 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,” said Brennan.
“It raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals,” continued Brennan, who left his post as head of the CIA when Trump was inaugurated.
Brennan asked the FBI to look further into the matter: “It was necessary to pull threads.”
Brennan says he encountered intelligence revealing "contacts and interactions" between Russian officials, people involved in Trump campaign. pic.twitter.com/5RqwmAVe1U
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) May 23, 2017
Brennan said on August 4, 2016, he spoke by phone with the head of Russia’s intelligence agency and warned him against any further interference in the U.S. election. The Russian denied that they were interfering in the election.
Last summer, Brennan also provided classified briefings to President Obama and eight senior members of Congress about the disturbing evidence that Russia was working to promote Trump’s candidacy.
After Trump was elected, in January, Brennan said he also again briefed President Obama and also told Trump that Russia’s Vladimir Putin had ordered an “influence campaign” targeting the presidential election.
In March, Trump asked two top intelligence officials to make public statements to back up his contention that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russian officials in order to undercut the FBI investigation into meddling in the campaign, the Washington Post reported.
The requests were made shortly after then-FBI Director James Comey said in public for the firs time that the agency was investigating Russian interference in the election and any collusion with members of the Trump campaign.
Trump’s request was made to Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, and Admiral Michael S. Rogers, chief of the National Security Agency. Both men refused Trump’s request, which they considered inappropriate and an effort to inject politics into a matter for intelligence and law enforcement officials to address.
Brennan was also asked if he believed the Russians just wanted to hurt Clinton’s chance or were actively working to elect Trump?
“My assessment is it was both,” replied Brennan.
He said Putin had long viewed Secretary Clinton as an implacable foe, while he saw Trump as a businessman who might take a softer view of Russia.
“They felt Mr. Trump,” added Brennan, “being a bit of an outsider, that they in the past had some good relations with businessmen who happened to elevate into positions of government authority.”
“They clearly had a more favorable view toward Mr. Trump and actions they were taking were trying to increase his prospects,” continued Brennan, “even though they probably thought they were not that great.”
Brennan said they thought Secretary Clinton would win, and wanted to “damage and bloody her before the election.”
Brennan is one of several witnesses and is expected to testify further behind closed doors with members of Congress about matters that are too classified to disclose in public.
What Brennan was able to say openly makes it clear Trump knew months ago that the Russian attempts to interfere were very real, and that they were favoring him over Clinton.
The news that Trump tried to get intelligence officials to support his claim that no one on his campaign actually colluded with the Russians is also damning and could be used as part of charges that the president was attempting to obstruct justice.
The chances of Trump walking away from this growing scandal untouched dimmed with every word Brennan spoke. He and those around him clearly did know about the Russian interference and in multiple cases, campaign staff spoke to Russians.
This House hearing is only one of the efforts to get to the truth. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating, and of course Special Counsel Robert Muller is expected to do the most intense and thorough investigation.
Today, the Ethics Department of the Justice Department acknowledged that Muller was suitable to be special counsel, and cleared the way for a waiver of rules that would have prohibited him from pursuing certain people – most notably the president’s son-in-law and counsel Jared Kushner – even though Muller had worked with a law firm that also did business with Kushner and others who may be investigated.
The track is now clear to get real answers about what happened, and there is little Trump can do to stop this investigation from moving down the track to the truth.