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At This Hour

Continuing Coverage of House Intelligence Committee Hearing. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 23, 2017 - 11:30   ET


JOHN BRENNAN, FMR CIA DIRECTOR: But as I said, there was a backdrop there of known Russian efforts to interfere in our election.


And there were a variety of activities taking place that -- wondered whether or not they were part of that campaign and strategy.

We don't have a totality of insight into all the things the Russians were doing. And I left it up to the professionals -- the counterintelligence and Russian experts -- to make sure that whatever information that they deemed appropriate to share with the Bureau because it could be relevant to their investigation -- they did that.

So I wasn't the one to make decisions, you know, share this with the Bureau, share this with -- it was based on long-held practices on the part of the CIA to make sure that we're not holding back from our Bureau colleagues.

SWALWELL: Director, there is what is referred to as consciousness of guilt evidence. That's when somebody lies about a material fact, and that fact -- the fact of them lying -- can be used against that person because it would be, in essence, an effort to cover up what happened. Meaning, if, you know, you were telling the truth, you wouldn't have anything to cover up.

With respect to some of the contacts that you've referred to between Russia and Trump campaign officials, are you aware of any of those U.S. persons who had contacts with Russia either making false statements about those contacts or failing to disclose those contacts?

BRENNAN: I think that's something that you can -- we can pursue in a closed session.

SWALWELL: And -- and, Director, with respect to the contacts that you have seen, have you ever seen, in your history working as an intelligence official, this number of contacts between a foreign adversary and a presidential campaign?

BRENNAN: I think our collection systems have increased over the years and so I don't know whether or not it's a result of better collection or because there were more contacts this time and I -- I just do not have a basis to make a determination about that.

SWALWELL: Thank you. Yield back.

CONAWAY: Gentleman yields back.

Dr. Wenstrup.

WENSTRUP: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Mr. Brennan, for being here today and your candor in this conversation.

Have you ever been asked to give your opinion to the FBI about whether intelligence you gathered should lead to an investigation? Do they engage you in that way? You said there's FBI engaged in the CIA, so I didn't know if they have an opinion or ask your opinion on that.

BRENNAN: Well, we would -- we would make a referral to the Department of Justice, in many instances, when we saw classified information appear in the public in an unauthorized fashion. And so that referral is made to the Department of Justice, to determine whether or not there should be a follow-up investigation. And it's the FBI that then takes a look at the circumstances and makes the decision. So that would be the referral we make.

WENSTRUP: OK. And we've pretty much established that Russia and the Soviet Union -- they've tried to meddle with our elections for years. Now, you came in as director after the last election, and -- which leads me to something Mr. Himes was talking about.

He says, you know, the rules -- the Russian playbook or whatever, they go -- they try to build relationships, especially with influential Americans, and you would agree with that. That's one of the things that you're kind of looking out for, these relationships. At least I believe that's what you've said.

So I'm just trying to understand process here a little bit. What sets up a red flag? What type of conversation do you hear that says, maybe we need to take a little bit further look into this, or refer it on?

And I can't help but think back to the previous election, when we see on videotape, President Obama says, "this is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility." And President Medvedev, who he's speaking to, says, "I understand. I'll transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you."

Now, you talk about the playbook -- it sounds like, "I stand with you," that's a pretty strong relationship. This is certainly an influential American, and we're talking openly about elections.

So again, I'm just -- I'm not trying to launch another investigation here, but I am concerned about the process. So you weren't sitting as a director at that time, but, you know, as Mr. Swalwell used the term, that's a pretty disturbing image, I think, to a lot of Americans, is -- what kind of relationship.

So would you question this interaction, where that type of conversation's taking place? And again, I'm just trying to understand process of how it moves from CIA to FBI to DOJ.

BRENNAN: That was direct conversation between the heads of government and state between two countries. I'm -- I'm not going to respond to your...


WENSTRUP: OK, but I think that's what we're -- I'm just, again, trying to get some understanding of what sets off a red flag, you know, and when do you refer to law enforcement.

I know you weren't the director at that time, but boy, that just hits all the things you were talking about in the playbook: elections, influential American, and building a relationship. "I stand by you."

So just, again, trying to get to the -- the substance there. But -- that's interesting you can't respond to a personal conversation, but this is what we're talking about. Anyway, with that, I yield back.

BRENNAN: I try to...


WENSTRUP: ... Go ahead.

BRENNAN: I try to avoid getting involved in political issues, partisan issues. And so, with respect to Mr. Wenstrup, I just will not recognize that question.

WENSTRUP: Thank you.

And with that, I yield the remainder of my time to Mr. Gowdy.

GOWDY: Thank you, Dr. Wenstrup.

Congressman Rooney and you were discussing, generally, the motive and I think it is -- let's just assume it's a given that the Russians did not like Secretary Clinton -- did not like President Obama, for that matter -- and desired negative things for her.

But they also thought she was going to win. Was it your testimony that all of the information stolen was not publicly disseminated?

BRENNAN: No. I said, if they had collected additional information, as I think was implied, that the -- the effort to try to further hurt her if she became president -- that information -- any type of derogatory information about her could have been husbanded for post- election period.

GOWDY: All right. But do you know if negative information was husbanded, to use your word, and not disseminated?

BRENNAN: Again, I -- I -- I think that would be inappropriate to talk about in an -- in an open session like this.

GOWDY: Is it inappropriate to both -- I get not asking you about the nature of it. Is it inappropriate to answer yes or no, whether or not that information was husbanded but not disseminated?

BRENNAN: My -- my request would be that we could talk about that in closed session.

GOWDY: OK. I'll honor your request, and we'll talk about that in a little bit.

CONAWAY: The gentleman yields back.

Mr. Castro.

CASTRO: Thank you, Chairman.

Thank you, Director Brennan, for your testimony here today.

Over the course the last several months, the intelligence agencies have been berated by the president for the possibility of leaks. Have you -- are you aware of his tweets and other criticisms he's made about leaking in the intelligence agencies?

BRENNAN: I know that there have been a number of allegations made publicly about intelligence officials being responsible for those leaks; yes, I'm aware of them (ph).

CASTRO: Are you aware of a story that came out yesterday that said, quote, "three White House staffers have been identified for leaking classified info. POTUS will fire, quote, 'multiple people,' when he returns to D.C."?

BRENNAN: I am unaware of that story or the facts, if any, underneath it.

CASTRO: If the story is true, and we don't know whether it is or not, but if it's true that there may have been people who leaked classified info at the White House, first, could you tell us, would -- it seems like an obvious question, should be an obvious answer -- are there people at the White House that would have classified information that they could leak to journalists?

BRENNAN: White House officials -- if they have the appropriate security clearances based on their position, they would have access to classified information, yes.

CASTRO: OK. And then the second part of that is, if the White House has determined that leaks are coming from within their operation, could you tell us how they would go about determining that? How would they figure out that they have leakers in the White House?

BRENNAN: If there is a sense that there are unauthorized disclosures of classified information from within the White House, I think it's imperative that the -- the FBI be brought into the matter so that there can be an appropriate investigation to determine whether or not that conduct was criminal or not.

And there shouldn't be just a -- an independent investigation that takes place. They can -- they can do some efforts to try to contain any hemorrhaging information, but it really is the responsibility of law enforcement and the Bureau to investigate criminal leaks of classified information.

CASTRO: Thank you.

Now, I have -- I have some questions about the I.C. assessment itself, and the declassified report, because there has been a lot of disinformation and confusion about the intelligence assessment, and it's been attacked also.

So, Mr. Brennan, when did the I.C. start warning about the Russian threat, and how was the assessment produced? Do you believe that the people working on it had the requisite skills and expertise to write such an important assessment?

BRENNAN: Well, the intelligence community assessment that was produced in early January was initiated by President Obama in early December to ensure that there was going to be a -- a full accounting of Russian activities, and directed that there be a classified and unclassified version of that.

The effort to uncover the Russian activities took place prior to that, and in both instances, I believe that the right people with the requisites -- array of skills were involved in the initial collection effort and assessment effort about Russian activities, up to and even in the aftermath of the election in November.

And then, there were additional individuals who were added to that, to a group that could draft that assessment so that it could be produced in early January.

CASTRO: And, let me ask you, how and why did all three agencies come to such a high degree of confidence about their assessment?

BRENNAN: I think that they rigorously interrogated the data, had very careful and deep discussions about what the data told them about their assessments. And so, therefore, there was a unanimous consensus among the three agencies in the ODNI about the judgments.

There was one variation as far as the NSA's confidence level, in terms of the Russian advocacy for Mr. Trump. But with that lone exception, it was a consensus assessment.

CASTRO: And the report also talked extensively about the role of WikiLeaks in working with Russia on this covert action campaign. Can you talk a bit more about how they fit in?

BRENNAN: Well, I think, as the assessment says, that the Russians used a cutout for the WikiLeaks exposure. And when you look at the WikiLeaks releases over time, you can see that sometimes they are timed to coincide with certain events. And they, I think, are always intended to undermine U.S. national security.

And Russian protests that they are not working with WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks' protests they're not working with the Russians, I think, on both parts, are disingenuous. CASTRO: And then let me ask my final question because I'm running out of time, back to the leaking at the White House, a potential leaking. What surveillance methods would the president of the White House have authorization to engage in on its own staffers that would be legal? And where might they cross the line?

BRENNAN: I am not a lawyer and you would have to go to the Department of Justice and the FBI in terms of what statutory authorities they might have, which I -- I just -- I am not aware, I don't know.

CASTRO: Thank you, Director.

CONAWAY (?): Gentleman's time has expired.

Mr. Stewart, five minutes?

STEWART: Thank you, Chairman.

And thank you Mr. Director for again, your many years of service. I'm going to go very quickly because I want to reserve as much time as I can for our task force and the attorneys. I want to go through and make one point; it's a point worth making. But before I do, I'm just going to add that I've reviewed the raw intelligence of the CIA regarding the analysis of whether they preferred Mr. Trump.

I don't agree with the conclusion, particularly that it's such a high level of confidence. I just think there should've been allowances made for some of the ambiguity in that and especially for those who didn't also share in the conclusion that it was a high degree of confidence. But having said that, I do think we can agree that Russia wants a weakened U.S. president, would you agree with that?


STEWART: Yes, certainly. And in regards to Secretary Clinton, you have said that their primary goal seemed to be to -- to weaken her candidacy so that she would be a weakened U.S. president. My question to you is would the same thing be true now? Would Russia want a weakened U.S. President, Mr. Trump?

BRENNAN: Well, I think they -- they want to be able to weaken the U.S. policies, especially on the international stage. I -- I do think that there is an interest in the part of the Russians to improve relations with the United States. And I do think it's important that relations between Washington and Moscow be improved, because...

STEWART: Yes, but -- but even if they want improved relationships


STEWART: Yes, but -- but even if they want improved relationships they would want that on their terms as much as able and that would be better accomplished by having a weakened U.S. president, regardless of who it is, wouldn't you say that's true?

BRENNAN: One can argue the point or that a stronger president is able to make -- have an accommodation with Russia out of strength as opposed to out of weakness.

STEWART: OK. I -- I would agree with you that there are some circumstances but I think in general they -- a weakened U.S., a weakened Western influence in the world and a weakened U.S. president is in their interests. And I'll just conclude with this. These active measures, the propaganda, the false news reports, et cetera, they don't end with the U.S. election.

And I think it's appropriate that we would warn the American people that these active measures, again, propaganda, fake news stories, et cetera, would be applicable today as well and that they would be trying to weaken our U.S. president and trying to weaken foreign leaders as well as we look at upcoming elections. Would you agree with that?

BRENNAN: Yes, generally speaking, yes.

STEWART: Thank you. And with that, I yield the remainder over to, I believe, Mr. Gowdy.

GOWDY: I thank the representative from Utah (ph). Director Brennan, why is it important to protect the identity of U.S. persons as part of our surveillance programs?

BRENNAN: Because there is, I think, a right of all Americans to privacy and that sometimes information is collected about U.S. persons who may or may not be involved in any manner of criminal activity. And therefore, respecting that privacy of U.S. citizens, the intelligence community goes to great lengths to cover the identities of U.S. persons if they happen to be included in intelligence collection.

GOWDY: For all those reasons and others -- and we're not talking about leaks. We're talking about masking within the intelligence community, right? We're not talking about reading it on the front page of the newspapers. We're talking about prohibitions that you place on yourself with respect to identifying U.S. persons as part of our surveillance programs, right?

BRENNAN: That's correct, yes.

GOWDY: All right. And you just cited some of the very important reasons that we do that and I would assume that there is a process, a protocol under which the intelligence community goes through if they seek to unmask a U.S. person's name.

BRENNAN: That's correct.

GOWDY: Have you ever requested that a U.S. person's name be unmasked?

BRENNAN: Yes I have.

GOWDY: Have you also either approved or denied requests of others that a U.S. person's name be unmasked?

BRENNAN: I don't recall in my tenure at CIA any decision on unmasking for someone else coming up to my level. It would have been -- that decision would have been made at a lower level within the agency.

GOWDY: Are you aware of any request within the community that were denied?

BRENNAN: I -- I do not -- I didn't have visibility into requests that were being made across the government so I don't -- I don't recall one that I was denied.

GOWDY: Do you recall any U.S. ambassadors asking that names be unmasked?

BRENNAN: I don't -- I don't know. Maybe it's ringing a vague bell but I'm not -- I could not answer with any confidence.

GOWDY: Do you remember what your last day on the job was at the CIA? What was the date?

BRENNAN: It was noon on January 20 when I gave up my responsibility as director of CIA.

GOWDY: On either January 19 or up till noon on January 20, did you make any unmasking requests?

BRENNAN: I do not believe I did.

GOWDY: So you did not make any requests on the last day that you were employed?

BRENNAN: No, I was not in the agency on the last day I was employed. I definitely know that on the last day I was employed I definitely

did not make such a request.

GOWDY: Thank you, director.

CONAWAY: The gentleman's time has expired. Mr. Crawford for five minutes. I'm sorry, Mr. Heck. Mr. Heck?

HECK: Thank you (ph) Mr. Chairman.

CONAWAY: I just want to make sure you're awake down there, Mr. Heck.

HECK: All over it thank you sir. Director Brennan thanks for being here. I -- I want to freely confess to you that there's an element of this Russian investigation with which I've struggled, and it is this. How I explained why this should matter and why people should care? What words do I use to explain this to folks who have a lot of things on their mind? Things like their kids, like keeping their job, like managing their debt, like caring for an elderly parent? Why should people care that the Russians hacked into our computers and then selectively disclosed that information with the express purpose of swaying an election? Why should they care that the Russians are doing this in other Western democracies and will continue to do so -- by the way it minimal investment.

That's the precise question that I actually put to then-Director Comey and Admiral Rogers when they were with us in March. I now pose it to you, sir. So not for my sake, but for America's sake. As someone who has devoted your entire life to public service in your own words, please tell my constituents, my neighbors why they should care not -- just here in Washington DC but in Washington state and Texas and Connecticut and points in between. Why should they care? Why do you care, sir?

BRENNAN: Because for the last 241 years this -- this nation and its citizens have cherished the freedom and liberty that this country was founded upon. Many, many Americans -- brave Americans over the years have lost their lives to be able to protect that freedom and liberty. They've lost their lives also to protect the freedom and liberties of other countries and other peoples around the world.

Our ability to choose our elected leaders as we see fit is, I believe in inalienable right that we must protect with all of our resources and all of our authority and power. And the fact that the Russians try to influence that election so that the will of the American people was not going be realized by that election, I find outrageous and something that we need to, with every last ounce of devotion to this country, resist and to try to act -- to prevent further instances of that. And so therefore I believe that this is something that's critical important to every American.

It certainly -- I -- it's very important to me for my children and grandchildren to make sure that never again will a foreign country try to influence and interfere in the foundation stone of this country which is electing our Democratic leaders.

HECK: In other words, sir, because you love your country.

BRENNAN: That's the -- the cliff note version of it, yes.

HECK: Well, I believe much is at stake here, including the following, whether American -- whether America will have elections that we can trust, that our continuing measures of self-determination free from foreign interference, whether we will smartly arm ourselves against any future such digital invasion, whether we are strong enough to make good on the promise to be a nation of rule by law, whether we will hold those accountable who seek to abrade our cherished institutions, whether we will stand up for democracy or enable this insidious autocracy and kleptocracy (ph), much is at stake.

No one should be misled, however, because this isn't just about Russia. This is about us and our metal (ph). The famous American diplomat George Kennan said at the outset of the Cold War, much depends on the health and vigor of our own society, and indeed it does. We're being tested, we're divided.

We've gone to our respective corners and claimed our own set of facts. Anger has become the currency of our civic discourse. Reason has been replaced with decibel level. But you know what? People also yearn for a reaffirmation of the value of narrative of America, which is the very thing that makes us great.

That's what I hear when I'm home, whether I'm playing cards with my buddies or out to a movie with my wife Paula or having coffee in the narthex of church. And do you know why? Do you know why Americans yearn for this? It's because it's what makes us -- makes it possible, for us to be for something bigger than ourselves.

And that is precisely what America is hoping, if not counting on us, on this dais, to do to be for something bigger for ourselves and to put our country above party. And I pray that that's what we'll do. Thank you sir, for your decades of service and for your presence here today.

CONAWAY (?): Gentleman's time has expired.

Mr. Crawford, five minutes?

CRAWFORD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I will yield to the gentleman from South Carolina, you may ask.

Mr. Gowdy?

GOWDY: I thank my friend from Arkansas.

Director Brennan, do you know who commissioned the steel dossier?

BRENNAN: I don't.

GOWDY: Do you know if the FBI paid for any -- portion of the steel dossier?

BRENNAN: I don't know. I know that there are press reports related to that, but I -- I don't know, I have no firsthand knowledge of that.

GOWDY: Do you know whether any of the underlying allegations made in the steel dossier were other ever tested, probed, examined, cross- examined, whether the sources were examined for reliability, credibility?

BRENNAN: I know that there were efforts made by the Bureau to try to understand whether or not any of the information in that was valid, but I just -- I don't have any firsthand knowledge of it.

GOWDY: Do you know if the Bureau ever relied on the steel dossier as any -- as part of any court filings, applications, petitions, pleadings?

BRENNAN: I have no awareness.

GOWDY: Did the CIA rely on it?


GOWDY: Why not?

BRENNAN: Because we -- we didn't, it wasn't part of the corpus of intelligence information that we had. It was not in any way used as a basis for the intelligence community assessment that was done. It was -- it was not. GOWDY: All right, this is my last line of questioning and I hope I have waited sufficiently long enough to ask you about leaks to not inflame the anger of our friends in the media who think Republicans are hyper focused on it. So we'll just do it last.

Some of your colleagues have testified that our surveillance programs are critical, vital, indispensable to our national security. Do you agree with their assessment?

BRENNAN Speaking generally, yes, some of those programs are absolutely essential and vital to our national security.

GOWDY: Do you agree that there is at least a tacit agreement between the American people and their government that they will allow us certain power, certain freedoms, in exchange for safeguarding the privacy of the information collected?

BRENNAN: I think there is certainly an expectation that there would be a protection of privacy as the government carries out its -- its responsibility, yes.

GOWDY: And you and I discussed some of those privacy protections, even within the intelligence community as it relates to U.S. persons and you've been very clear this morning. In fact, I've -- I've noted the times you've said U.S. persons. You could've inserted a name, but you did not. You had the discipline to say U.S. person. And that discipline is practiced throughout the intelligence


GOWDY: And you and I discussed some of those privacy protections, even within the intelligence community as it relates to U.S. persons and you've been very clear this morning. In fact, I've -- I've noted the times you've said U.S. persons. You could've inserted a name, but you did not. You had the discipline to say U.S. person. And that discipline is practiced throughout the intelligence community unless and until there is a request to unmask that U.S person's name, correct?

BRENNAN: I would like to think that discipline is still exercised even if a request to unmask a name is made.

GOWDY: All right. So we protect U.S. persons even within those like yourself and Director Pompeo and Admiral Rogers and Director Comey and the people that we trust with awesome powers, we still impose some restrictions on them in that they have to request an unmasking, there has to be, I assume, a justification. You can't just wake up in the morning and say hey, I feel like knowing who participated in X, Y, and Z.

There has to be justification, right?


GOWDY: So how do we get from that to names being on the front pages of certain major U.S. newspapers? BRENNAN: It's an excellent question.

GOWDY: What would be an equally excellent answer?

BRENNAN: That somebody violated their oath to protect classified information and violated that oath and shared that information in an unauthorized fashion with members of the media.

GOWDY: Well, my friend from Washington -- and he is my friend, I was impressed not only with his eloquence but the conviction with which he just spoke. But I've got other colleagues not from Washington that tend to minimize the nature of leaks as if there is somehow a weighing and a balancing that needs to take place between how interesting we may find the underlying information, how interesting we may find the underlying names.

I have seen attempts unfortunately by members of this very body to mitigate and explain away and minimize what it does to the surveillance programs to have leaks of classified information. So I will finish with this. I believe there's some surveillance programs that are up for reauthorization. What would you say to the American people as names are unmasked on the last day that people are in office and classified information appears on the front pages of major U.S. newspapers?

How would you tell your constituents, let's reauthorize this program again despite the fact that we have abuses? How -- help us make that argument when we go home.

BRENNAN: Mr. Gowdy, you and your colleagues here are going to have to make that argument based on the merits of the program and the importance of it to our national security as well as trying to send a reassuring message to them that if there had been any abuses of the accesses to that information either because of the number of people involved or those who were in fact violating their oath of office that you and your colleagues will do everything possible to make sure you work with the executive branch to minimize and mitigate that danger and that prospect.

CONAWAY: Gentleman's time has expired. Ms. Stefanik.

STEFANIK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Director Brennan, for your service. My questions will be focused on the process and development of the intelligence community assessment. As you know, the previous administration directed the intelligence community to produce a comprehensive intelligence report assessing Russian activities and intentions on December 9.

The unclassified version of that report incorporated information as of December 29. In your experience as an analyst and as the director, what is the average time that it typically takes to produce an I.C. assessment?

BRENNAN: It can range from days to months to years, in fact, depending on the complexity of the matter as well as the urgency of getting something out but it really does vary widely. STEFANIK: So you noted that the complexity can have an impact on the timeliness to produce

a comprehensive report. This report was produced in just 20 days in December. Was there anything about this interagency process that differed the timeline, the approval process, the editing or the staffing?

BRENNAN: I think it followed the general model of how you want to do something like this with some notable exceptions.


It only involved the FBI, NSA and CIA as well as The Office of