Former CIA Director John Brennan testified on Tuesday that his agency alerted the FBI to a troubling pattern of contacts between Russian officials and Trump campaign associates last year, adding himself to the long list of people who have expressed suspicions or concerns about the President’s Russian connections.
Brennan said in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee that he became increasingly concerned that Trump associates were being manipulated by Russian intelligence services as part of a broader covert influence campaign that sought to disrupt the election and deliver the presidency to Trump, the Washington Post reports.
“I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons,” Brennan said, adding that he did not see proof of collusion before he left office on January 20, but “felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues.”
The Post refers to Brennan’s testimony as “the most detailed public accounting” of the agency’s role in “triggering” the FBI probe into the Trump campaign’s involvement with the Russians.
“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 maintained that there was no Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, despite the U.S. intelligence community agreeing unanimously that it happened.
For their part, GOP lawmakers focused their time at Tuesday’s hearing on getting Brennan to say he had no conclusive evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
While Brennan acknowledged that he still had “unresolved questions” about the contacts, he also said, “I know what the Russians try to do. They try to suborn individuals and they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to act on their behalf, either wittingly or unwittingly.”
According to the Post, Brennan refused to name any of the people who were detected communicating with Russian officials. The FBI probe has already looked at former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was shamed into resigning after his lies about his contacts with the Russian ambassador were exposed.
Brennan said that because Russia used 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,” adding 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 Post took that remark to be in reference to Flynn.
From the Post:
Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday they will consider “interim steps” to compel Flynn to hand over documents related to its Russia, short of citing him for contempt, after he refused to comply with a subpoena.
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.”
As the Post notes, Brennan is the “latest senior Obama official to appear publicly before Congress in hearings that have that have often produced damaging headlines for Trump.”
Read more at the Washington Post.