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Russia Investigation Hearing Continues. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CASTRO: -- aide and confident of Vladimir Putin.

COMEY: Not going to answer that, Mr. Castro.

[14:30:00] CASTRO: In an October 18, 2016, entry, the dossier states that, during Page's visit to Moscow, he met with Igor Senchin, offering, quote,"Page and Trump's associate, the brokerage of up to 19 percent stake in Rosneft," which Page conferring (ph) that, quote, "If Trump were elected U.S. President, sanctions on Russia would be lifted."

And although fortunately the White House hasn't been so naive as to (inaudible) unilaterally lift sanctions on Russia, it was widely reported that on January 27th of this year, Rosneft sold a 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft in what Reuters calls, quote,"one of its biggest privatizations since the 1990s." Furthermore, Reuters reported that, quote, "Public records show the ownership structure of the -- of the stake ultimately includes a Cayman Islands company whose beneficial owners cannot be traced." What a coincidence.

Is this the subject of your investigation? One of the subjects of your investigation?

COMEY: Same answer.

CASTRO: OK.

COMEY: Meaning -- meaning I'm not going to comment.

CASTRO: I understand.

So, let's move to WikiLeaks for a moment, who played such a prominent role in the 2016 election. As has established before and reestablished at this hearing, WikiLeaks was at a minimum an unwitting pawn and, at a maximum, an active co-conspirator of the Kremlin's in publishing stolen DNC and senior Democratic officials' e-mails. And so you agree this was done in order to offer Moscow some measure of separation as to mask its hand in having hacked and stolen the data in the first place, but so it could still have it publicly posted to inflict damage on the Clinton campaign?

COMEY: Yes, I think that's fair.

ROGERS: Yes.

CASTRO: OK. An entry from July 19, 2016, in the dossier states that a Trump associate knew that the Kremlin was using WikiLeaks in order to maintain quote, "plausible deniability of its involvement." Three days after this entry, WikiLeaks carries out the Kremlin's wishes and publishes upwards of 20,000 stolen DNC e-mails, and 8,000 associated e-mail attachments, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Another entry dated August 17th has Carter Page and a Russian associate discussing WikiLeaks publishing e-mails in order to swing Sanders' supporters away from Clinton and to Trump. And again, from a September 14th entry in the dossier, quote, "Kremlin has further compromising material on Clinton in form of e-mails and considers disseminating after parliamentary elections in late September." And on October 7th, WikiLeaks publishes John Podesta's hacked e-mails. So the coincidences keep piling up.

Let's turn, in the few minutes that I have remaining, again to Paul Manafort, as a follow-up to Mr. Himes' questioning. Suffice it to say, Paul Manafort was a major part of the Trump campaign, including serving as its chairman, convention manager, and chief strategist, before departing the campaign in disgrace in August 2016. It's also established the fact that Paul Manafort was a long-time official adviser to pro-Russian Ukrainian political leadership.

Is Paul Manafort -- Manafort a subject in your investigation?

COMEY: I'm not going to comment on that.

CASTRO: All right. Director, can you describe to the American people the Russian concept of kompromat?

COMEY: It's a technique that they use to gather information on people that may be embarrassing or humiliating, and using it to coerce cooperation.

CASTRO: In your career, have you known instances where that has been successfully leveraged?

COMEY: Yes, I believe our counter-intelligence division has encountered it a number of times.

CASTRO: Does that include private places, including places such as hotels that are wired for audio and video?

COMEY: I don't think I remember enough about the particulars to say, but in theory, sure.

CASTRO: Thank you.

I yield back. I yield back to Ranking Member Schiff.

SCHIFF: I recognize Mr. Heck.

HECK: Admiral Rogers, before I get into my main body in my remarks, I want to go back to your earlier comment about that there is no evidence to indicate that there was a successful Russian hacking of voter results or tabulations. What I did not hear you say is whether or not there had been any attempts to hack into election systems of any kind.

ROGERS: Yes.

COMEY: I can answer that because the FBI's responsibility's in the United States. We saw no indication of that. We saw efforts to penetrate voter registration databases, state Boards of Elections, at that level. We saw no efforts aimed at the vote itself.

HECK: But you did see efforts to penetrate registration roles?

COMEY: Correct.

HECK: Did you see efforts to penetrate any other portions of election systems, other than registrations? In this country it's a highly- decentralized system and, as a consequence, you will recall, then- Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, indicated that election systems should become a part of our critical infrastructure for cybersecurity purposes.

COMEY: Their efforts were aimed at the voter registration systems in various states, and it takes different forms in various states. Sometimes there's a private vendor, sometimes it's state. But it -- that's where it was focused, and not on the -- the vote itself, vote machines, vote tabulation, vote transmission, that we've seen.

HECK: Thank you. I yield back to the Ranking Member (inaudible).

SCHIFF: Time's -- time's expired, but let me go quickly to Mr. Turner.

TURNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

There's been a lot of statements that have been made up here that is opposed to questions. And we don't certainly feel the need to clarify all of them, but there is one aspect that does need to be clarified because it's also involved both of your testimonies.

There's been discussion up here concerning the statements by James Clapper and, rather than do the conjecture as it has been made, I'm going to just read it. Chuck Todd said, "Let me ask you this. Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?" James Clapper said, "We did not include any evidence in our report.

I say 'our,' that's NSA, FBI, and CIA, with my office and the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report." Chuck Todd followed up. "I understand that, but does it exist?" James Clapper answered, "Not to my knowledge." So the text is not merely related to the report.

I yield back.

NUNES: Mr. Crawford's recognized. CRAWFORD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, gentlemen, for being here today. I'll start with Director Comey. Despite your expressed disdain for the New England Patriots, I think that Tom Brady would probably like to express his gratitude for the FBI's assistance in recovering his stolen Super Bowl jersey, so I'll do that on his behalf now.

COMEY: Thank you. By the way, I -- if I'm honest with myself, the reason I don't like the Patriots is they represent sustained excellence and, as a Giants' fan, that drives me crazy.

CRAWFORD: Director Comey, are you familiar with an article, July 18, 2016, from The Washington Post entitled "Trump Campaign Guts GOP's Anti-Russia Stance on Ukraine"?

COMEY: I'm not familiar with that article. I don't -- I don't remember it.

CRAWFORD: I'd ask (you) now to consent to add this to the record, just for your edification, Director. There's an allegation contained in that article that at a National Security Committee platform meeting Trump staffers wrote an amendment to an amendment that stripped out platform's call -- call for providing, quote,"Lethal defensive weapons," and replace it with softer language, calling for, quote, "Appropriate assistance."

Are you familiar with a March 18, 2017, story in the Washington Examiner entitled "How Pundits Got Key Parts of the Trump Russia Story All Wrong"? Are you familiar with that?

COMEY: I don't think I am.

CRAWFORD: I'd ask you now to consent to add that to the record, and also for your edification I'll go to some of the -- the meat of that story. There -- are you aware of an allegation that Trump staffers gutted the Ukraine plank of the platform?

COMEY: Am I aware of the article on that?

CRAWFORD: Are you aware of any -- anything of that nature, the article or any -- any activity that -- that (inaudible)?

COMEY: Do you want to talk about anything -- I'm willing to comment on whether I've seen different things in the media. I don't want to talk about anything beyond that.

CRAWFORD: OK. So, then, say you're not aware of the final platform that retained all of the language from the original platform, plus the portion of the amendment offered by the platform committee member?

COMEY: I don't want to comment.

CRAWFORD: OK. Then I'll go through -- I know that you're limited on what you comment on. I'll go through some of the -- some of the -- as I said, the meat of this. Reading from the platform, it says, quote, "We will meet the return of Russian belligerence with the same resolve that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. We will not accept any territorial change in Eastern Europe imposed by force in Ukraine or elsewhere, and we'll use all appropriate measures to bring to justice the practitioners of aggression and assassination," end quote.

Does that sound to you as a -- like a pro-Russian or a pro-Putin statement, in your assessment?

COMEY: That's not for me to comment on.

CRAWFORD: OK. Further, in the platform it says quote "We support maintaining and if warranted increasing sanctions together with our allies against Russia and less and until Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing appropriate assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and greater coordination with NATO defense planning." And again, that sounds like fairly clear language in their relationship to Russia.

Would you agree?

COMEY: Same answer Mr. Crawford.

CRAWFORD: OK, thank you.

The final language I'll get to here in just a second -- there was -- there was an amendment but the final language regarding that plank of a platform with regard to national security relating to Russia. It says "we support maintaining and if warranted, increasing sanctions together with our allies against Russia and less and until Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing appropriate assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and greater coordination with NATO defense planning."

And again, that -- to me that sounds fairly clear and straightforward that that is not conducive to a Putin administration. Would you agree?

COMEY: Give you the same answer, Mr. Crawford.

CRAWFORD: Thank you, sir.

It's also important to note that that platform was adopted in coordination with and in concert with the Trump administration as they met at the convention and they went through the platform process. The Trump campaign agreed to the platform condemning Kremlin belligerence, calling for continued and perhaps increased sanctions against Russia as I indicated in the text of that platform. For the full restoration of Ukrainian territory, for refusing to accept quote "any territorial change in Eastern Europe imposed by force, Ukraine or elsewhere and pledging to aid Ukraine's armed forces."

So I -- I bring that up just to -- just to highlight and note the fact that none of that appears to be pro-Putin or pro-Russian language.

NUNES: Mr. Crawford, will you yield that to me?

CRAWFORD: Yes.

NUNES: So, Mr. Comey, I just want to make sure -- I know you're not going to comment on this, but I hope that you'll take this back to your investigators because there seems to be the -- the line out there that somehow the Republican Party watered down it's platform. And that's not true. That didn't happen, and in fact, what happened is -- is that the platform was actually increased. Increased its certainty against what the Russians were up to and it actually amended the platform to make it stronger than what it initially was.

So, you know, I know there's a lot of circumstantial evidence out there about all these supposed people that knew -- that knew the Russians, but the reality is and remains the case, Republican Party had a very strong platform that was against the Russians and it was increased in its -- its strength not decreased like has been reported. So I know that you won't comment, but I hope that at least you will -- we'll provide this to your investigative team so that we can at least get this off the table. Will you -- will you take this back?

COMEY: Sure.

NUNES: OK, we'll give it to you.

Sorry, Mr. Crawford. We'll go back.

CRAWFORD: Not at all. Thank you, Mr. Comey, I appreciate that.

Admiral Rogers, would you like to make a comment about the New England Patriots before I move forward?

ROGERS: I'm a Chicago Bears guy, born and (inaudible).

CRAWFORD: Admiral, our employees -- you mentioned this before but I just want to go through this list. Are employees of intelligence community -- intelligence community agencies required to disclose visits with foreign nationals?

ROGERS: Yes, broadly, although I'd be the first to admit not all foreign international interactions are the same. Interactions with the British, for example, are in a very different place than other countries for example.

CRAWFORD: OK, appreciate that clarification. To your knowledge, are elected officials required to disclose contact with foreign nationals?

ROGERS: I don't know what the specifics are across the federal government because clearly in many jobs, that's part -- interaction with foreign counterparts is part of your job. I'm the first to acknowledge that. I interact with foreign counterparts as does Director Comey, regularly, in the course of our duties.

CRAWFORD: Are federal campaign employees required to disclose contacts with foreign nationals to your knowledge?

ROGERS: I apologize, I just don't know.

CRAWFORD: OK. Are private citizens required in any way to disclose or to report contact with foreign nationals? That you know of?

ROGERS: I don't know.

CRAWFORD: Is it customary for transition teams for a presidential campaign -- for transition team members to meet with foreign nationals to your knowledge? Is that customary?

ROGERS: It's an area I just don't have any knowledge.

CRAWFORD: Is that unusual?

ROGERS: I don't have any -- I don't have any knowledge on it.

CRAWFORD: Has it happened before?

ROGERS: I've never been part of a transition team. I don't know.

CRAWFORD: Are transition team members required by law to disclose contacts with foreign nationals?

ROGERS: I apologize, I don't know the law there.

CRAWFORD: Thank you.

I yield back to the Chairman.

NUNES: Thank you Mr. Crawford.

Ms. Stefanik's recognized.

STEFANIK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Director Comey and Admiral Rogers for your testimony today. My first set of questions are directed at Director Comey. Broadly, when the FBI has any open counter-intelligence investigation, what are the typical protocols or procedures for notifying the DNI, the White House, and senior Congressional leadership?

COMEY: There is a practice of a quarterly briefing on sensitive cases to the chair and ranking of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. And the reason I hesitate is, thanks to feedback we've gotten, we're trying to make it better. And that involves a briefing of the Department of Justice, I believe the DNI, and the -- some portion of the National Security Council at the White House...

STEFANIK: So if that's quarterly...

COMEY: ... to brief them before Congress is briefed.

STEFANIK: So it's quarterly for all three then, senior congressional leadership, the White House, and the DNI?

COMEY: I think that's right. Now that's by practice not by rule or by written policy which is why, thanks to the chair and ranking giving us feedback, we're trying to tweak it in certain ways. STEFANIK: So since, in your opening statement, you confirmed that

there is a counter-intelligence investigation currently open and you also referenced that it started in July. When did you notify the DNI, the White House, or senior congressional leadership?

COMEY: It's a good question. Congressional leadership, some time recently. They were briefed on the nature of the investigation in some detail as I said. Obviously the Department of Justice has been aware of it all along. The DNI, I don't know what the DNI's knowledge of it was because we didn't have a DNI until Mr. Coats took office and I briefed him his first morning in office.

STEFANIK: So just to drill down on this, if -- if the open investigation began in July and the briefing of congressional leadership only occurred recently, why was there no notification prior to the recent -- to the past month?

COMEY: I think our decision was it was a matter of such sensitivity that we wouldn't include it in the quarterly briefings.

STEFANIK: So when you state our decision is that your decision? Is that usually your decision what gets briefed in those quarterly updates?

COMEY: No, it's usually the decision of the head of our counter- intelligence division.

STEFANIK: And just again, to get the detailed -- on the record, why was the decision made not to brief senior congressional leadership until recently when the investigation had been open since July? A very serious investigation -- why was that decision to wait months?

COMEY: Because of the sensitivity of the matter.

STEFANIK: Stepping back more broadly, in the case of Russia, we know that cyber hacking is just one tactic that's typically part of a broader influence or information warfare campaign and we know the Russian government is ready and willing to employee hacking as but one of many tools in their toolkit to obtain information for use against the United States. Is there any evidence that Russia tried to hack other entities associated with the 2016 presidential campaign in addition to the DNC or the Clinton campaign operatives?

COMEY: Yes, many others.

STEFANIK: Can you specify those others? Did that include the RNC? Did that include any of the other campaigns of candidates in the primaries, either Democrats or Republicans?

COMEY: I think what we can say in an unclassified setting is what we have in the report that there were efforts to penetrate organizations associated with the Republican party and that -- I think that is what we said in the report. And that there were not releases of material taken -- hacked from any Republican associated organizations.

STEFANIK: But the hacking -- the use of cyber tools as part of their broader, whether you call it hybrid warfare or information warfare campaigns, it was done to both parties.

COMEY: Correct.

STEFANIK: Thank you. Taking a further step back of what's been in the news recently, and I'm referring to the Yahoo! hack, the Yahoo! data breech, last week the Department of Justice announced that it was charging hackers with ties to the FSB in the 2014 Yahoo! data breech. Was this hack done to your knowledge for intelligence purposes?

COMEY: I can't say in this forum.

STEFANIK: Press reporting indicates that Yahoo! hacked targeted journalists, dissidence and government officials. Do you know what the FSB did with the information they obtained?

COMEY: Same answer.

STEFANIK: OK, I understand that. How -- how did the administration determine who to sanction as part of the election hacking? How -- how familiar with that decision process and how is that determination made?

COMEY: I don't know. I'm not familiar with the decision process. The FBI is a factual input but I don't recall and I don't have any personal knowledge of how the decisions are made about who to sanction.

STEFANIK: Looking forward -- and this is for both of you -- what is the NSA and the FBI doing to keep Americans safe, to keep campaign entities -- to keep any entity associated with a major campaign, save from aggressive Russia cyber measures that were utilized in this past election?

ROGERS: So, we continue to maximize the insights. We're generating about an activity -- for example, this started with the NSA initially gaining access, in the summer of '15, we became aware of that activity, shared it with our FBI teammates. That continues, we try to make sure that the insights we generate our shared with our law enforcement teammates, who then re-interact with the private sector.

We're trying to work broadly across the U.S. government to increase cybersecurity, as you heard discussed -- on-going discussions about what's the role of the voting infrastructure in the United States, in terms of critical infrastructure. Do we need to bring that within the critical infrastructure framework? I know that topic has been ongoing for some period of time.

STEFANIK: Director Comey?

COMEY: Yeah, I think that's right and just making sure that we are sharing information when we get it that someone's being hit, but more importantly we're showing people what we've learned from this cycle, so they can tighten up.

STEFANIK: Thank you. It seems to me in my first line of questioning, the more serious a counterintelligence investigation is. That would seem to trigger a need to update not just the White House, the DNI, but also Senior Congressional Leadership. And you stated, it was due to the severity. I think moving forward, it seems that the most severe and serious investigations should be notified to the Senior Congressional Leadership.

And with that, thanks for the lenience, Chairman, I yield back.

(CROSSTALK)

COMEY: That's good feedback, Ms. Stefanik. The challenge for us is sometimes we want to keep it tight within the executive branch, and if we're going to go brief congressional leaders, the practice has been, then we brief inside the executive branch. And so, we have to figure out how to navigate that in a good way.

NUNES: We may have to update the law on that. Gentlelady (ph) yields back.

Mr. Schiff is recognized for 15 minutes and I think -- then we'll come back to our side for 15 and that should be it.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just a couple of questions before I hand it back to Mr. Heck.

Do the Russians favor the United States provision of lethal, defensive weapons to Ukraine, Admiral?

ROGERS: No.

SCHIFF: They would strongly oppose such an idea, would they not?

ROGERS: They've been opposed to it to date.

SCHIFF: And I can tell you that the idea of providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine has bipartisan support here on the Hill, including Senator McCain, certainly myself, I would imagine many members of this committee.

There was an effort at the convention to strengthen the platform by including a provision that would provide lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine. That was defeated. The campaign manager for the Trump campaign at the time, Paul Manafort, denied the campaign was involved in defeating that amendment. But the delegate who offered the amendment later disclosed to the press that in fact it was dropped at the insistence of the Trump campaign.

J.D. Gordon, a national security adviser for the Trump campaign was forced later to admit that in fact, he had weighed in against the amendment that would have provided that the U.S. should give lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.

So, I would join my chairman in asking you to look into this, particularly since we know that Ambassador Kislyak attended the convention and if there was any communication between the Russians and the Trump campaign, that had the effect any coordination that resulted in the defeat of an amendment that was against Russian interests, the committee would certainly like to know and we welcome that inquiry.

Mr. Heck?

HECK: Thank you, Ranking Member.

There a lot of emotions kicking around in this room today. I perceive anger and outrage and subdued somberness, one I feel overwhelmingly is sadness. We've heard nothing but terribly disturbing evidence of what has happened to our country at the hands of arguably our greatest advisory.

And what's worse, the evidence we've heard so far all seems -- all seems to lead to the conclusion that they help from the inside. That this was, in part, an inside job from U.S. persons -- willing American accomplices or terribly naive ones, or probably both -- who helped the Russians attack our country and our democracy.

We're both still at the early stages of our investigation. We're not indicting anyone, merely laying out some of the evidence and the facts, dirty though they be, sleazy though they be. And no matter what, we can safely conclude at this point that never in the modern era has a President and his Administration had so many foreign entanglements.

Entanglements that continue to push American foreign policy away from its core roots -- beliefs, interests and alliances towards unprecedented positions that only Putin himself could approve of. How else can we explain the modification to the Republican Party platform in such a decidedly pro-Russian way.

Republicans who are always so strong against geopolitical foes like Russia, I know my colleagues on this committee take the Russia threat very seriously. Why wouldn't the people who inhabit the White House? How else can we explain an Administration that beats up our oldest allies, like Australia and Britain, and our strongest and most sacrosanct alliance, like NATO, but never, ever say a bad word about Putin. In fact, they say a lot of good words about Putin.

An administration that we have heard decisively makes up baseless wiretapping charges against a former United States President, equates our intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany, and argues moral equivalents between a repressive, authoritarian states with an abhorrent human rights record like Russia in our free and open democracy. And yet, this Administration never, ever utters any criticism of Russia.

Let's be clear though. This is not about party. It's not about relitigating the election. It's not as if anything we do here will put a President from a different political party in the Oval Office. So, I hope that it's clear that it's about something much more important. And no, it's not about political motivation, to my friend who said and suggested that earlier, this is about patriotism, about something way more important than party.

This is about country and the very heart of what this country is built on, which is open, free, fair, trusted elections. We don't take our investigation lightly and I know you don't. Indeed, you go through a process to even decide to do that, whether to extend the resources, to begin with credible allegations and reason to believe that there's something that warrants it. And I no doubt believe you've talked to lawyers in and out of the prosecution divisions about whether or not this warrants an investigation. I know you don't take this lightly.

What we have seen is damning evidence today of what Russia did. We've also seen damning evidence of how they did it. Russia has a history of using active measures, many of which we have heard about today. Let's recap them, we're getting near the end.

Hacking and dumping information to damage or embarrass their enemies. We heard about this, of course, with respect to WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0. Using third-party and cutouts, business people, oligarchs (ph) and other ostensibly private individuals to cultivate relationships.

We've discussed Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, CEO Igor Sechin, and of course, Vladimir Putin himself. We're also heard about Russia's use of companies like (inaudible), the Bank of Cyprus, (inaudible) and a confusing web of offshore shell companies used it would seem to hide or to launder money.

We've also heard how Russia released disinformation to spread rumors and confused the public and to sow distrust and the ability to even know truth objectively, using propaganda, media outlets, whether they're owned directly by Russia or not, to release such disinformation in order to claim plausible deniability of Russia's hands.

Here again, we see WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, but we also see the use of propaganda outlets like RT. And of course, the use of U.S. persons of influence. Whether through active collision or coordination or naive acquiescence, we don't yet know the full extent to further Russia's attempts to undermine our elections and ultimately, weaken our democracy.

On that last point, we've heard about quite a few individuals in the Trump orbit who feel somewhere on that spectrum from mere naivete, disturbing enough if this naivete is a feature of those who are supposed to be running our country and foreign policy, to unwitting Russian dupes, to willing blindness, to active coordination.

[15:00:17]