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Russia Investigation Hearing Concludes; Comey Confirms FBI Looking at Trump-Russia Links. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


HECK: -- and foreign policy, to unwitting Russian dupes, to willing blindness, to active coordination.

[15:00:17]

This rogues galleries includes those already fired -- Roger Stone, adviser to Donald Trump; Paul Manafort, adviser to Donald Trump; Michael Flynn, national security adviser to Donald Trump; Carter Page, adviser to Donald Trump.

But the cloud of deep suspicion in Russian entanglements extends to those still in power. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State to Donald Trump; Michael Caputo, adviser to Donald Trump; Jeff Sessions, Attorney General for Donald Trump; and members of the Trump family itself.

This matters. It's serious. Our battleships weren't sunk and our towers didn't collapse a la 2011 (sic). But make no mistake, 2016 is a year that we should mark on our calendars, and it's still going on. The attack didn't end on Election Day. And it will continue as you have suggested unless we, all of us in this room, stop it.

Admiral Rogers, you've proudly worn that uniform your entire career. I am proud of your service and grateful for it. But I would ask you, sir, not even with respect to this specific investigation, to use your own words as someone who no doubt has been in theater, who's lost brothers and sisters in combat, to explain to me, but more importantly to the American people -- don't assume they know the answer. Tell them in your words why we should care about Russia's active measures campaign aimed as destabilizing our democracy and that of our allies. In your words, sir, why should they care?

ROGERS: I don't think it's best interests of our nation for any external entity to attempt to manipulate outcomes, to shape choices. That should be the inherent role of a democracy.

The investigation we're going through I think is a positive in the sense it will help illuminate to all of us, regardless of party, what are the implications here and what does it mean for us. Because I think our conclusion and that of the intelligence community broadly here is, this absent some change, this behavior is not likely to stop. Absent some change in the dynamic, this is not likely to be the last time we'll be having these discussions about that kind of activity. I don't think that's in anybody's best interest for us as a nation. HECK: Director Comey, parallel question. Again, in general terms,

not with respect to the specific investigation you have revealed here today, not asking you to go into specifics on any individuals, but please, explain briefly to me, and more importantly to the American public, why we should care about Russia's use of U.S. persons of Americans helping Russia destabilize our democracy.

COMEY: Well, like Admiral Rogers, I truly believe we are shining city on a hill, to quote a great American. And one of the things we radiate to the world is the importance of our wonderful, often messy, but free and fair Democratic system and the elections that undergird (ph) it. And so when there's something by a foreign nation state to mess with that, to destroy that, to corrupt that, it's very, very serious, threatens what is America.

And if any Americans are part of that effort, it's a very serious matter. And so you would expect the FBI to want to understand, is that so? And if so, who did what? But again, I want to be very careful to people who over0interpret my words, to preserve our ability to answer those questions, we're not talking about our work.

I'm not here voluntarily. Right? I would rather not be talking about this at all. But we thought it was important to share at least that much with the committee and the American people, and now we're going to close our mouths to do our work to see if we can answer those questions, because the answers matter.

HECK: They do indeed. I thank you both for those answers. And I thank you both for your service to our country. I would like to think that we can turn this from a sad event into a positive one. This country has stood up and fought on behalf of its own health and welfare and that of its citizens and met any number of challenges throughout our nation's history. The worst thing we could do is underestimate the nature of this challenge before us today.

With that, ranking member, I would appreciate it if I could yield to my friend from Texas, Mr. Castro, briefly.

SCHIFF: Mr. Castro.

CASTRO: I thank you. One more question with respect to Lee (ph) because I know that's been a big topic of the line of questioning and of course is a concern to all of us. Regardless of political party. But I want to ask you director, is it possible that some of those leaks could come from not the intelligence community, but from members of the White House staff for example?

COMEY: Sure it could come from lots of different places. And it's often one of the things that is challenging as I said about a leak investigation. You think it's going to be a small circle, but it turns out a lot of people either knew about it, or heard echoes of it and it's stories to tell to journalists about it. So in my experience trying to figure these things out for decades, it's often coming from places you didn't anticipate.

CASTRO: No and the reason I asked the question is because the President has berated the FBI and the intelligence community on the issue of leaks. And others have berated the intelligence community in the press because of these leaks. But I think it's worth considering that it's quite possible that there are folks who have a kind of political Munchausen by proxy syndrome, where they leak information because they want to be the savior once it blows up. You know they're all sorts of individual's that serve on political staff and I think that we ought to consider the possibility that perhaps it is somebody at the White House.

Thank you. I yield back.

NUNES: (inaudible). The gentleman yields back.

The gentleman yields back to Mr. Hurd.

HURD: Thank you, Chairman.

And gentlemen, thank you all for being here. And thank you for your continued service to your country. I've learned recently the value of sitting in one place for a long period of time and listening and today I'm has added to that understanding and I'm going to try to ask questions that y'all can answer in this format and are within your areas of expertise.

And Director Rogers, my first question to you -- the exploit that was used by the Russian's to penetrate the DNC, was it sophisticated? Was it a zero day exploit? A zero day being some type of -- for those that are watching, an exploit that has never been used before?

ROGERS: In an open unclassified forum, I am not going to talk about Russian tactics, techniques or procedures about how they executed their hacks.

HURD: If members of the DNC had not -- let me rephrase this, can we talk about spear fishing?

ROGERS: Sure, in general terms, yes sir.

HURD: Spear fishing is when somebody sends an email and they -- somebody clicks on something in that email...

ROGERS: Right, the user of things (inaudible) they're receiving an email either of interest or from a legitimate user, they open it up and they'll often click if you will on a link -- an attachment.

HURD: Was that type of tactic used in the...

ROGERS: Again, I'm not in an unclassified forum just not going to be...

HURD: Copy, I apologize. Director Comey, when was the first time the FBI notified the DNC of the hack? Roughly.

COMEY: I think august of 2015.

HURD: And was that prior to information being leaked to -- being sent on -- put on WikiLeaks?

COMEY: Yes the -- the first Russian directed releases where middle of June of the next year by D.C. leaks and this Guccifer 2.0 persona and then that was followed by Wikileaks. So about a year. A little less than a year really.

HURD: So there was about a year between the FBI's first notification of some potential problems with the DNC network and then that information getting on -- getting on Wikileaks.

COMEY: Yes, sir.

HURD: Have you been able to -- when did the DNC provide access for -- to the FBI for your technical folks to review what happened?

COMEY: Well we never got direct access to the machines themselves. The DNC in the spring of 2016 hired a firm that ultimately shared with us their forensics from their review of the system.

HURD: Director Rogers, did the NSA ever get access to the DNC hardware?

ROGERS: The NSA didn't ask for access. That's not in our job...

HURD: Good copy. So director FBI notified the DNC early, before any information was put on Wikileaks and when -- you have still been -- never been given access to any of the technical or the physical machines that were -- that were hacked by the Russians.

COMEY: That's correct although we got the forensics from the pros that they hired which -- again, best practice is always to get access to the machines themselves, but this -- my folks tell me was an appropriate substitute.

HURD: The -- at what point did the company and the DNC use -- share that forensic information to you?

COMEY: I don't remember for sure. I think June. I could be wrong about that.

ROGERS: The company went public in June of 16, with their conclusions. I would assume it was around that time.

COMEY: I think it was about the time -- I think it was a little bit before the announcement, but I'll say approximately June.

HURD: So -- so that was -- how long after the first notification of -- that the FBI did of the DNC?

COMEY: Ten months.

HURD: Ten months? So the FBI notified the DNC of the hack and it was not until 10 months later that you had any details about what was actually going on forensically on their network?

COMEY: That's correct, assuming I have the dates about right. But it was -- it was some months later.

HURD: Knowing what we know now, would the FBI have done anything different in trying to notify the DNC of what happened?

COMEY: Oh Sure.

HURD: What -- what -- what measures would you have done differently?

COMEY: We'd have set up a much larger flare. Yeah we'd have just kept banging and banging on the door, knowing what I know now. We made extensive efforts to notify, we'd have -- I might have walked over there myself, knowing what I know now. But I think the efforts we made, that are agents made were reasonable at the time.

HURD: Good copy. And do you have a ball park of the number of private sector entities that you have to notify of these types of breaches?

COMEY: Hundreds and thousands. In this particular case we had to notify hundreds, I think maybe more than 1,000 entities that the Russians were hitting at the same time.

HURD: Admiral Rogers, do you have anything to add to that?

ROGERS: No, because as we pass the information to the FBI, what started all this was a pretty massive effort on the part of our Russian counterparts.

HURD: I've said this many times. The outcome of grizzly staff (ph), what the intelligence community as the Russian hacking, has been the wedge, whether real or perceived between the executive branch, the intelligence community and the public.

And this is an asymmetrical tool, that the Russians are using to destabilize liberal democratic institutions. And I think it is important that we do everything we can to review this, which I fully believe federal law enforcement, is doing as y'all have talked to here. And I would like to end before yielding back to the chairman, that my colleague from California, the Ranking Member said in his opening statement, the question that most people have is whether we can really conduct this investigation, in the kind of thorough nonpartisan manner that the seriousness of the issues merit, or whether the enormous political consequences of our work will make that impossible.

And he adds, the truth is, I don't know the answer. I do. We must. The American people demand this. The future of our democratic institutions demand it and I'm glad we have two people like y'all involved in this. Mr. Chairman I yield back my time to you.

NUNES: Gentleman yields back.

And Mr. Gowdy's got a follow up.

GOWDY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Mr. Chairman I want to thank you and Ranking Member Schiff for having this. Here Mr. Chairman you were talking about Russia far before it became -- long before it became fashionable to talk about Russia. If memory serves me correctly, you referred to Russia as possibly our greatest national security threat post 9/11. And as you know Chairman I come from a state with a fellow name Graham, who is also no fan of Russia.

So Director Comey, Admiral Rogers, people in your line of work are incredibly respected both your current line of work and the work that you came from and people in my line of work are not and there's a reason. The justice system is respected and the political process is not. So this is -- while this hearings important. What's really important is what you do after this hearing.

And I want you to go find every single witness who may have information about interference, influence, motive, our response, collusion, coordination, whatever your jurisdiction is, wherever the facts may take you, though the heavens may fall, go do your jobs because nature abhors a vacuum. And right now you can't answer most of the questions, either by policy, by law, or because the investigation has not been complete. Therefore, a vacuum exists which people in my line of work are more than happy to fill. So I need you to fill. I need you to do it with all deliberate speed.

Director Comey, I think it's also important for my fellow citizens to take note of why the system that you come from, the one that I come from, is respected, and this system that I'm in now is not.

What is hearsay?

COMEY: Information you don't know of your own personal knowledge but learn from someone else.

GOWDY: It's an out of court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.

COMEY: I was trying to be a little less lawyerly.

GOWDY: All right. Well, we'll go with your answer. And it is almost never admissible in court. How about anonymous sources? When you were in the southern district could you ever call on an anonymous source to testify in one of your proceedings?

COMEY: No.

GOWDY: You couldn't even use hearsay, unless there was some widely accepted exception. It would never -- a newspaper article would never, ever be admitted as evidence in a courtroom. So the system we respect would laugh you out of court if you came in armed with a newspaper article. But in the political process, that's enough.

Let me ask you this. Cross examination. Why are you able to cross examine witnesses in trial? Why do we have a right to confront witnesses?

COMEY: Well, it's embedded in our Constitution, and the reason it makes great sense is, it's the crucible out of which you get truth. GOWDY: It is the single best way to elucidate the truth -- to test and to probe and to challenge, and to test someone's personal exposure to the facts. Cross examination's the best tool that we have. How do you cross examine an anonymous source? How do you cross examine hearsay? I hope that you go find every single witness that you need to talk to, and examine every single document.

People are counting on you two and your line of work to find the facts. And people are welcome to draw whatever conclusions they want from the facts. But when I hear the word evidence, as I've heard lots and lots this morning, let me ask you this, Director Comey, did you ever -- are you familiar with any trials where one witness may have said the light was red and one witness may have said the light was green?

Has that ever happened?

COMEY: Yes, that's why you have a trial.

GOWDY: Does it ever happen where one bank teller said the assailant was 5'10" and one said the assailant was 6'2"?

COMEY: Sure.

GOWDY: So that's evidence. You've got evidence he's 6'2" and evidence he's 5'11", he just can't be both. The light can't be red and green. So the word evidence, while fancy and legal, the reality is you find facts and then the finder of the fact can draw conclusions and inferences from those facts.

So I wish you luck as you begin this process. It is all important. The fact that someone may have had a line of questions about leaks does not mean that they're not interested in all aspects of Russia. And vice versa, the fact that they may not have asked questions about leaks doesn't mean they're not interested in them.

You have jurisdiction over all of it. So, God bless you as you go on this journey for the facts. And then people can draw whatever conclusions they want. I hope that you will fill (ph) the vacuum that is created when you all are not able to answer questions.

With that, I will yield back to the chairman.

NUNES: The gentleman yields back.

Mr. Comey, this is my final list of questions here. I just want to make sure we get this on the record. Do you have any evidence that any current Trump White House or administration official coordinated with the Russian intelligence services?

COMEY: Not a question I can answer.

NUNES: I figured you were going to say that, but I just wanted to make sure we got it on the record. How about counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway? COMEY: It's the same answer. And as I said earlier, I constantly want to ask people, don't over interpret the fact that I say I can't comment. I'm not going to comment on anybody.

NUNES: Well, I think -- I understand that. But here's the challenge. Is that you've announced that you have this big investigation, but now you've got people that are involved in our government that are -- the Secretary of State, for example -- these are important players. And the longer this hangs out here, the bigger the cloud is.

And I know that you're not going to tell me whether or not you have any evidence, but I can tell you that we don't have any evidence. And we're conducting our own investigation here, and if you have some -- if you have evidence I'd -- especially as it relates to people in the White House that are working in the White House or the administration, I mean, that would be something that we really should know about and we should know about quickly.

And so if you can't give it to the entire committee, I hope you can at least give it myself and Mr. Schiff because you know, there is a big gray cloud that you have put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country. And so the faster you can get to the bottom of this, it's going to be better for all Americans.

COMEY: I understand. Thank you.

NUNES: All right. With that, I want to thank the members today and especially our witnesses. It was a long day, but I think a good discussion.

[15:21:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The House Intelligence Committee wraps up its hearing. They have been going since 10:00 a.m. Eastern. It's now 3:21 Eastern. They had a short break, but a very, very intense Q&A with the director of the FBI, as well as the director of the National Security Agency.

Once again, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

Gloria, it was pretty amazing. We heard the director of the FBI confirm for the first time a criminal investigation is now under way, and it has been under way since July, into these allegations that there may have been some coordination between Trump associates and the Russian government.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think, if you take a step back for a minute, Wolf, you would have to say this is the worst and most perilous day of Donald Trump's young presidency.

In this hearing over the last bunch of hours, we have seen the director of the FBI rebut Donald Trump directly. He said, first of all, there was no wiretapping by the former president of Trump Tower. He confirmed an investigation into the question of whether there was cooperation, as he put it, between Trump associates and the Russians. He said the fact that the U.K. corroborated in some kind of a wiretap

was wrong, and that he also said there was no evidence of election machine hacking.

And so, on all four of those points, you know, you would have to say, while Sean Spicer said that nothing has changed, I think was his quote, I think a lot has changed after this hearing today, because, as Devin Nunes put it, and I think he's right, a cloud is hanging over the Trump administration right now.

And they are going to have a hard time figuring out how to handle it.

BLITZER: And, Dana Bash, you heard White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer say they are not backing away from their original allegation. They are not backing away at all, based on what they heard from this testimony today.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, Sean Spicer, who we have all known and worked with for a long time, is in an impossible situation, trying to defend the indefensible, and trying to explain the inexplicable.

We see that every day. But I think it was on steroids today watching the White House briefing, to the point where discussing specific individuals who are -- may or may not be investigated from the Trump campaign world talking about Paul Manafort, who we all covered it. We were there. We dealt with him, who ran the campaign, maybe didn't have the campaign manager title, but he was effectively the campaign manager for several months.

And Sean Spicer says that he had a very limited role and it was for a very limited period of time.

What? I mean, it's just -- it doesn't make any sense on its face. And so what you see, again, you know, Spicer trying to do his job, which is to figure out a way to walk the thinnest of thin lines in not implicating his own boss, without outwardly defending his own boss, it's very, very difficult.

But it is absolutely not believable to hear him say something like that. And it just, again, puts the credibility of everything that we hear from the White House into question, not to mention the fact that the president is sending tweets, or at least somebody is from the official POTUS account, during the hearing that, real time, one of the Democrats on the panel had Jim Comey, the FBI director, dispute.

BLITZER: Yes, they included clearly.

[15:25:00]

John, 16 days ago, the president leveled those four tweets, posted those four tweets accusing his predecessor, President Obama, of basically committing a felony and illegally ordering a wiretap of Trump Tower in New York.

Comey: "I have no information that supports those tweets. And we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for DOJ and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets."

But we didn't hear any backing away from those tweets over at the White House briefing.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, because Sean Spicer kept saying, well, these investigations are continuing.

But, again, to your point, the second part of that statement is what is most significant, no offense, no disrespect to the FBI director, when he said the Justice -- the broader Justice Department, main Justice, Donald Trump's Justice Department says President Trump was wrong.

You just have to underline that and underline line, but then the fact that the president doesn't just -- I will call this the Elsa rule, as a parent of a child, let it go, that the White House just wouldn't say let it go and decided instead to say the investigation is still going on.

And then tweets, as Dana notes, we don't believe the president sent them. They are sent from the official POTUS account by the staff, but then mischaracterizing or taking out of context things that the FBI director was saying at a congressional hearing.

You just start this spiral. To the point where we ended, Chairman Nunes at the end was trying to say to the FBI director finish as fast as you can, do a thorough job, please, but finish as fast as you can because of the cloud you have created.

And that's a fair statement. There is no evidence in the public record and, as he said, we have no evidence at the committee level of any collusion. You have all these contacts.

I would say this, that a lot of this mess is of the president's making of his own team, in the sense that let's assume all these meetings with the Russian ambassador were perfectly innocent. Why did they deny them for months?

They have created a lot of these questions of their own, whether it's stubbornness, or just refusal to deal with the news media. We didn't meet with the Russians, while we have these meetings. This never happened. Well, actually, this part did happen.

We have no evidence that any of that is nefarious. None. None. But the fact that we have gone through months of it never happened, well, this happened, it's a mess. Plus, the president's tweets about the wiretapping, a lot of this is a mess of their own making.

BLITZER: If those comments were not enough from the FBI director and the director of the National Security Agency, also, Clarissa Ward, we got a firm denial from the director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, that there was any British spying on Trump Tower in New York, repeating it was nonsense, utterly ridiculous. That was the statement from the British government. And Rogers said, yes, it's the same statement from the U.S. government.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And he almost seemed a little embarrassed as he was sort of recounting this episode and as they were discussing this, because, let's be clear.

For the GCHQ to be spying on a presidential candidate in the U.S. would be a direct violation of the 5 I's agreement. This is one of the most important mechanisms for gathering and sharing intelligence between the U.S. and its key allies.

It's just not embarrassing. It's almost insulting to be accusing the Brits of being involved in that kind of activity. And I think you heard Admiral Rogers, as someone who works so closely with British allies, and British allies being some of the most important in the world, it's a little bit awkward for him to have to even go to the Brits and sort of say, I'm sorry about that. Obviously, we know that that never happened.

BLITZER: Evan Perez, we got a statement just a little while ago in from a spokesman for the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

The White House keeps referring to a statement he made on "Meet the Press" a few weeks ago in which he said he hasn't seen any evidence of collusion between Trump associates and the Russians.

Here's a statement that they just released: "Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has been clear that, while he was not aware of any conclusive intelligence related to collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russians prior to leaving government, he could not account for intelligence or evidence that may have been gathered since the inauguration on January 20."

The statement adds: "As Director Clapper has said publicly, it is in the best interest of all Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, that we get to the bottom of what has become an all-consuming distraction."

So, go ahead and tell us, based on what you know, has the FBI, the Department of Justice, other agencies come up with new information since Clapper left office on January 20?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: As far as we know, no.

We don't know that they have come up with anything new. But the problem for the FBI director and the reason why he refused to answer that question during the hearing today is simply that he doesn't know everything that may be uncovered in this investigation. Even though it's been going on since last July, this is a counterintelligence investigation, and they notoriously go on for months, sometimes years.

There is no timeline yet of how long this will go on. And so they cannot answer that question right now, Wolf, because, if it changes, then he's going to be facing the same problem he had back last year, which is where he promised, at the end of an investigation, to update members of Congress.