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Intel Chief Testifies Amid New Russia Revelations; At Least 22 Killed in Terror Attack at UK Pop Concert; Former CIA Head Talks Russia Probe with House Members. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 23, 2017 - 10:00   ET


DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, that won't solve the problem, particularly the homegrown and inspired attacks.

[10:00:00] Clearing going to the heart of ISIS and driving a stake through that heart, we assess, will significantly improve the situation, the plotting and the planning that comes from a centralized caliphate or safe haven for ISIS. We've seen the damage that's occurred.

We do asses, however, that it's ideology and methods have spread like tentacles into many places, most of them ungoverned countries and been -- and sent some foreign fighters back home that might want to carry -- carry on their mission. But clearly the strategy I believe is the right strategy and that is to go to the heart and disperse their planning and their leadership.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The Defense Science Board told this committee, at least in the next decade, the offensive cyber capabilities of our most capable adversaries are likely to far exceed the United State's ability to defend key critical infrastructure, do you agree with that assessment?

COATS: I do -- I do. I think cyber has risen to the top if -- close to the top of one of the most serious challenges that we face. As I mentioned in my opening statement we need to see this as a very significant challenge to our public safety as well as the public health.

MCCAIN: Two years in a row we have authorized the provision of defensive lethal weapons in the defense authorization bill to Ukraine, do you believe we should seriously consider that in light of continued Russian aggression in the country?

COATS: Well, Mr. Chairman, that is a little bit outside my portfolio. It's a policy decision that perhaps General Stewart may want to discuss but we want to try to continue the intelligence that would shape and fashion that decision among our policy makers, General Mattis and others.

MCCAIN: Finally, on the issue of cyber, right now we have no policy, nor did we for the previous eight years of the last administration. And, so, therefore, without a policy we don't have a strategy. So, therefore, when we don't have a strategy we don't know how to act. Is there -- is -- is that a true depiction of the scenario as we see it as far as cyber is concerned?

COATS: Well I think we're learning that we do need to take this seriously, which we do, we do need to fashion a means by which we address these cyber attack that are growing by the day. Our critical infrastructure is at risk, our personal lives are at risk, our financial community, commercial communities, military and other entities that are important to our national security are at risk. And shaping -- shaping a policy and a plan to address this I think rises to a top priority.

MCCAIN: I want to thank you and General Stewart for your outstanding work for our country.

Senator Reed.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. Thank you both gentlemen.

Director Coats, apparently the -- the alleged call was prompted by the testimony of Mr. Comey that the FBI was conducting an investigation of the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian Government and whether there was any coordination within the campaign and Russia's efforts.

In your capacity as director of all intelligence services including many aspects of FBI, are you aware of certain of such an investigation?

COATS: Well I'm aware of the of the investigations that are -- that are underway both by the House, the Senate, now Special Counsel.


REED: And the FBI.

COATS: And the -- yes.

REED: And do you have any reason to question the appropriateness of the investigations?

COATS: No, I think these investigations have are in place to get us to the right conclusion so that we can -- we can move on with a known result.

REED: There are other allegations in the article, which suggests that either the president or White House personnel contacted other people in the intelligence community with a request to drop the investigation into General Flynn.

Are you aware of any other contacts not just yourself personally but to others in the intelligence community to conduct an activity?

COATS: I am not aware of that.

REED: Thank you. You have -- and General Stewart, have painted a very challenging picture of the threats that face us. Let me raise two specific issues. One with respect to Iraq, there has been discussions in the Kurdish community of a referendum to declare essentially their independence or their desire for independence.

[10:05:07] In your estimation, Director Coats and General Stewart, what would that do to the ability of the Iraqi government to come together after the defeat of ISIS?

COATS: Well it certainly adds an issue that is going to need to be worked through as complicated as the situation is. It would add one more -- one more complication. I would turn to General Stewart relative to the military aspects of that.

LT. GEN. VINCENT STEWART (USMC), DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: At -- once ISIS is defeated in Mosul, the greatest challenge to the Iraqi government is to reconcile the differences between the Shia dominated government, the Sunnis out west and the Kurds of the north. Resolving the Kirkuk oil field and the revenues associated with the oil fields, resolving the ownership of the city of Kirkuk will be significant political challenges for the Iraqi government.

Failure to address those challenges coming up with a political solution will ultimately result in conflict among all of the parties.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, you've been listening to this hearing inside the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, he would not comment. He dodged the question when asked directly.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: He didn't deny it.

BERMAN: He didn't deny it but he dodged it when asked directly whether or not the president asked him to publicly deny that there was any connection between the Trump campaign and Russia.

HARLOW: He was also asked by Senator McCain about leaks and he said that quote, "Leaks jeopardize those lives." That was the second follow-up question from John McCain.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, Bob Baer, CNN intelligence and security analyst, a former CIA operative, Juliette Kayyem, CNN national security analyst, former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Balboni, former New York State Homeland Security director and Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor at large.

Guys, we're going to start of the politics of this because that's what we were just watching right there with this hearing, the Director of National Intelligence asked to corroborate this report that the president had asked him to publicly deny there was any investigation.

Chris Cillizza, when you heard the DNI say, you know, it's not appropriate for me to characterize these discussions, what did that sound like to you?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: That he's not denying it. Look, you know, Dan Coats is someone who's been around a very long time. He was a senator from Indiana, left, came back and represented Indiana in the Senate before being named DNI. He knows how this works.

If he wanted to, felt comfortable with making a full-scale denial -- no, President Trump never asked me to knock down talk of collusion in the wake of the investigation announced by James Comey. He would have done that. That's a setting in which you could do it. He knew, of course, he was going to get that question. This is a way to sort of deflect. It's a way to say not yes but not no, right? This is sort of a middle ground answer that will make some news but not as much news as if Senator Coats had said, yes, he did ask me to knock that down.

HARLOW: Right, right. Guys, we're going to stay on this. We're monitoring a hearing that's about to begin with former CIA director John Brennan as well and we're waiting for House Speaker Paul Ryan. But we do also want to cover the breaking news, the tragedy that attack last night in Manchester. And we have all of you here, national security experts.

So, let me just go to you, Bob Baer, on the breaking news out of Manchester. What we do know is that this is ISIS, we believe, claiming responsibility. Whether it was ISIS-inspired or ISIS-plotted and we know some of the names of the victims, how young they were, an 8-year- old girl dead, an 18-year-old girl dead. What is your read on this that authorities have arrested a 23-year-old man in addition to the apparent suicide bomber?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST AND FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, you know, I think it's probably a bigger sail. This was a well-planned attack. The suicide bomber didn't enter the arena. He didn't have to go through security. He was placed where he would cause the maximum damage in a suicide vest like that. 22 people is probably the maximum damage you can do.

These bombs, homemade bombs, have to be very carefully delivered. If it was acetone and peroxide it has to be cooled and I could go on and on, which suggests that somebody knew what they were doing. These bombs are easy to make, but you still need supervision and I would expect an arrest and maybe more. I think we're dealing with a cell. The British police are worried about add-on attacks right now and they're doing everything they can to stop them.

BERMAN: Juliette Kayyem, as we see John Brennan there, the former CIA director, beginning his opening statement. Let me stay on the Britain terror attack right now. You know, as someone who's worked in Homeland Security, but also as someone who is a mother, that this is a parent's worst nightmare, an attack like this.

[10:10:00] JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST AND FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOMELAND SECURITY: It absolutely is. You know, even sort of the Paris attack that was a bar or even Orlando, you know, I don't want to say some -- no one deserves to die from terrorism, but you know, you sort of prepare yourself for those kinds of attacks, sort of adult, Friday night situations.

I have three kids. Anyone who knows Ariana Grande knows that your 9 to 13-year-olds are listening to them, they are begging to go to her concert. This is targeted against not only the most defenseless, the most innocent, but also imagine after the attack, after the bombings, you know, a child doesn't necessarily know what to do, right? So, that fear and panic even for those who have survived lasts a long time. This is a success from the perspective of ISIS.

HARLOW: Juliette, stay with us for one second. I'm so sorry to interrupt, but let's get to the former CIA director, John Brennan, listen in.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: First, I'm exceptionally proud of the work done by the women and men of the CIA who along with their talented colleagues from the FBI, NSA, and the office of the DNI, tracked and exposed Russian active measures against our presidential election.

When it became clear to me last summer that Russia was engaged in a very aggressive and wide-ranging effort to interfere in one of the key pillars of our democracy, we pulled together experts from CIA, NSA, and FBI in late July to focus on the issue, drawing in multiple perspectives and subject matter experts with broad expertise to assess Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.

The purpose was to ensure that experts in key agencies had access to information and intelligence relevant to Russian actions so that we could have as full an appreciation as possible on the scope, nature, and intentions of this Russian activity.

The experts provided regular updates and assessments through the summer and fall, which we used to inform senior U.S. officials, including President Obama. The work also was leveraged for the intelligence community assessments that was completed in early January, under the aegis of the director of national intelligence.

Second, it should be clear to everyone that Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 present election process and that they undertook these activities, despite our strong protests and expose a warning that they not do so.

Along these lines on 4, August of last year, I spoke to Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia's Federal security Bureau, the FSB, Russia's internal security and intelligence service. The bulk of the schedule call focused on Syria, as Bortnikov was my principal Russian interlocutor on tourism matters.

In consultation with the White House, I took the opportunity to raise two additional issues with him. I first told Mr. Bortnikov, as I had several times previously that the continued mistreatment and harassment of U.S. diplomats in Moscow was irresponsible, reckless, intolerable and needed to stop. Over the years it has been Mr. Bortnikov's FSB that has been most responsible for this outrageous behavior.

I next raised the published media reports of Russian attempts to interfere in our upcoming presidential election. I told Mr. Bortnikov that if Russia had such campaign underway, it would be certain to backfire. I said that all Americans regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption. I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in election.

Finally, I warned Mr. Bortnikov that if Russia pursued this course, it would destroy any near-term prospect for improvement in relations between Washington and Moscow and would undermine constructive engagement even on matters of mutual interest.

As I expected, Mr. Bortnikov denied that Russia was doing anything to influence our presidential election, claiming that Moscow is a traditional target of blame by Washington for such activities. He said that Russia was prepared to work with whichever candidate wins the election. When I repeated my warning, he again denied the charge, but said that he would inform President Putin of my comments. I believe I was the first U.S. official to brace the Russians on this matter.

Third, to the so-called Gang of Eight process, we kept Congress apprised of these issues as we identify them. Again in consultation with the White House, I personally briefed the full details of our understanding of Russian attempts to interfere in election to congressional leadership, specifically Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr; and to Representatives Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Devon Nunes and Adam Schiff between 11, August and 6, September.

I provided the same briefing to each of the gang of eight members. Given the highly sensitive nature of what was an active counterintelligence case involving an ongoing Russian effort to interfere in our presidential election, the full details of what we knew at the time were shared only with those members of Congress, each of whom was accompanied by one senior staff member.

The substance of those briefings was entirely consistent with the main judgments contained in the January classified and unclassified assessments, namely that Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency, and to help President Trump's election chances.

[10:15:14] Let me conclude by saying that was a very special privilege to serve as a CIA officer for the first 25 years of my public service and it was the highest honor of my professional career and always will be to have served another four years as director of CIA. CIA officers of all disciplines past, present and future serve this country and their fellow citizens with tremendous dedication, talent, and courage.

They recognize that this country's national security rests heavily on their continued outstanding work on the sacrifices they and their families make every day on behalf of their fellow citizens. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to all CIA officers and their families for what they have done and continue to do to protect this country. And I will now be pleased to take your questions.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY (R), TEXAS: Well, again Mr. Brennan, thank you very much for your long service, distinguished and for agreeing to come this morning.

I'm joined on our task force by two able prosecutors who I'd like to yield my five minutes to -- to Tom Rooney, Tom?

REP. TOM ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Director, if you could just take a quick minute before I start with my line of questioning, with regard to what happened last night in Manchester to do whatever you can the best you can from your expert -- expert opinion to try to reassure the American people that what we do in this country and what we're trying to do would help thwart and stop any kind of similar activity here in the -- in the future. If you could help try to put American minds at ease briefly, I would appreciate any words that you might have of advice.

BRENNAN: Well, I would say that ISIS and Al Qaida and their terrorist -- terrorist affiliates continue to try to carry out these outrageous attacks in Europe, as well as the United States. But I can say with great confidence that this country has the absolute best counter- terrorism community that knits together the experts from intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security and does a great job of making sure that our federal structure is interoperating as best it can with state and local officials and local law enforcement.

And so I have seen a tremendous, tremendous growth of capability, as well as an -- an enhanced national architecture since 9/11, in terms of the ability to share counter-terrorism information quickly, terrorist threat information so that when it's collected overseas or wherever, it gets to those individuals who have to take action on it. So I can assure the American people that I know today, my former colleagues are working even harder than they ever have before to prevent attacks.

ROONEY: Thank you, sir. And to the matter at hand, we heard the ranking member speak in his opening, as well as we've heard in -- in the press numerous times with regard to and in your opening statement, the Russian investigation what -- what the Russians were trying to do with regard to our election.

The Russians interfering with our election, whether it be through the RT or propaganda or whatever, we know that that has now unfortunately become the new norm and it's something that we're all going to have to deal with. And our charge on this committee isn't so much necessarily to try to seek out and root out criminal behavior, especially now in light of the new Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who would be looking into those type of things.

But for us on the intelligence committees, whether it be here or in the Senate, to try to improve the intelligence community's ability to do our jobs and to make a report, a recommendation to you and the -- the new administration as to how we better defend ourselves against what Russia and/or others may be trying to do with regard to affecting our Republican, our democracy. And in doing so, if we do find any kind of criminal behavior, I think that -- that the minority would agree that those type of -- that type of information would be referred to the Justice Department, which is the -- the proper jurisdiction. But with regard to the -- the -- the main question at hand in your experience with the Russian trying to involve themselves in our election. Did you ever find any evidence as the ranking member spoke of collusion while you were the director, did you find direct evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Putin in Moscow while you were there?

BRENNAN: Mr. Rooney, I never was an FBI agent I never was a prosecutor so I really don't do evidence; I do intelligence throughout the course of my career. As an intelligence professional, what we try to do is to make sure that we provide all relevant information to the bureau if there is an investigation underway that they're looking into criminal activity.

[10:20:06] As I mentioned in my opening statement, I was convinced in the summer that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election. And they were very aggressive, they had -- it was a multifaceted effort and I wanted to make sure that we were able to expose as much of that as possible.

ROONEY: But was there intelligence that said that the Trump campaign was colluding with Moscow during their campaign to assist...

BRENNAN: There was intelligence that the Russian intelligence services were actively involved in this effort and having been involved in many counterintelligence cases in the past, 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.

And I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons and so therefore, by the time I left office on January 20, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion. And so therefore I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues.

ROONEY: When you talk about -- and I'm running out of time, but hopefully I'll be able to circle back. Can you describe their capabilities beyond just propaganda and actual infiltrating whether or not there was -- you had intelligence to infiltrate the campaign with capabilities beyond just propaganda and beyond just reaching out or trying to influence the news or the campaign and how long have we known about these type of capabilities?

BRENNAN: There's a lot of intelligence that's been built up over the years about Russia's M.O. in terms of trying to gain influence in Western democracies. How they've been able to use individuals, they've been able to use politicians, political parties, they've been able to use elements within the media to try to make sure that their objectives are realized.

And so again, knowing what the Russian M.O. is and has been including elections in Europe, I certainly was concerned that they were practicing the same types of activities here in the United States. And that's why, as I said, we set up a group in late July that included the FBI and NSA.

I wanted to make sure that every information and bit of intelligence that we had was shared with the bureau so that they could take it. It was well beyond my mandate as director of CIA to follow on any of those leads that involved U.S. persons. But I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign was shared with the bureau.

ROONEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Gentleman's time expired.

Mr. Schiff, five minutes.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I wanted to follow up on a comment that I made in the opening statement and that is, with respect to a number of the allegations that have been made recently that the president or his aids may have sought to enlist the help of members of the IC or Director Comey himself to drop the Flynn investigation? Have any members of the IC shared with you their concerns that the president was attempting to enlist the help of people within the intelligence community to drop the Flynn investigation?

BRENNAN: No, sir.

SCHIFF: Are you aware of any efforts the president has made to enlist the support of intelligence community personnel to push back on a narrative involving the collusion issue that Mr. Rooney was asking about?

BRENNAN: I am unaware of it.

SCHIFF: I want to ask you about the allegations concerning the president's meetings in the White House, in the Oval Office with the Russians.

First, what concerns you might have if the allegations are accurate about sharing information that we may have obtained from an intelligence partner. What impact you think that might have on -- not only that partner, but other intelligence partner's willingness to share intelligence with United States. But more than that, if you can also shed your insights on -- on one other thing, and that is the Russians reaction to that meeting was -- was at least twofold. One was Vladimir Putin's offer to validate what happened in the Oval Office, to provide his own transcript of that meeting, but also the Russian publication of photographs from that meeting.

The Russians had to understand the publication of those photos would be harmful to the president or the president would've invited American press into that meeting. What do you think motivated the Russians to publish those photos, what you think motivated Putin to make a claim he knew would never be accepted to provide their own transcript of that meeting? Is this just further efforts to weaken the president, to disrupt our political process? How do you explain those events?

BRENNAN: A lot of questions there, Mr. Schiff.

[10:25:00] The first one I'd like to make is that I shared classified information with the Russians while I was director at the CIA. CIA, on a routine basis, shares classified information with Russians on tourism matters. It doesn't mean that it becomes unclassified; it means that it retains the classification, but is releasable then to Russia or to other partners, so that in itself is not unprecedented.

And I don't know what was shared or said in the Oval Office, but if the reports in the press are true that Mr. Trump decided to spontaneously share some intelligence with the Russians, I think he would have basically violated two protocols. And those two protocols are one, is that such intelligence -- classified intelligence is not shared with visiting foreign ministers or local ambassadors. It's shared through intelligence channels because it needs to be handled the right way and it needs to make sure that it is not exposed. He didn't do that, again, if they get the press charges are accurate.

Secondly, before sharing any classifies intelligence with foreign partners, it needs to go back to the originating agency to make sure that the language in it is not -- even just providing a substance going to reveal source of methods and compromise the future collection capability. So it appears as though, at least from the press reports, that neither did it go in the proper channels nor did the originating agency have the opportunity to clear language for it, so that is a problem.

What I was very concerned about though is the subsequent releases of -- what appears to be classified information reporting to appoint to the originator of the information, liaison partners. These continue to be very, very damaging leaks and I find them appalling and they need to be tracked down. So that was where the damage came from; I think that it was released in the press.

Now the Russians are watching very carefully what's going on in Washington right now and they will try to exploit it for their own purposes and to see whether not they can further, I think, seed partisan animosity here in Washington and try to roil the waters -- the political waters here. and so even though the election is over, I think Mr. Putin and Russian intelligence services are trying to actively exploit a what is going on now in Washington to their benefit and to our detriment.

SCHIFF: Fall, to again, on Mr. Rooney's questions, when you have these concerns raised about the Russian efforts and their potential effort to suborn U.S. persons to their cause and the hacking operation, did you take steps to set up an organizational structure to analyze the Russian campaign so that members of the of the FBI, CIA, NSA and other agencies would look at these allegations in a cohesive fashion.

BRENNAN: Yes and I also recognize that this was an exceptionally, exceptionally sensitive issue, an active counterintelligence case, trying to stop and uncover what the Russian intelligence activities were in the midst of a hotly debated presidential campaign. That included information that may have involved U.S. persons contacts with Russia, whether they benign or not.

And so therefore, one of the key pieces of any type of counter intelligence effort is to compartment that effort so that your operators, your investigators, your collectors, can continue to uncover what the Russians were doing. We set up a group within CIA, I spoke to Jim Comey, I spoke to Mike Rogers, to make sure that they were able to send over their experts so that they could share information among them, even the most sensitive information that was not disseminated within the community. I wanted to make sure that learning the lessons of 9/11, that there were not going to be any stovepipes and -- and barriers to sharing information from the intelligence and law enforcement communities.

SCHIFF: Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

CONAWAY: Gentleman's time expired. Mr. Gowdy, five minutes.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Director, thank you for your service to our country. Let's go back to where we were a couple minutes ago, you mentioned or you testify that you had a conversation in August of 2016 with your Russian counterpart, you testified that you briefed at least eight members of Congress throughout dependency of your investigation.

When you learned of Russian efforts -- and we'll get to that in a minute because my understanding from your unclassified report is, Russia has historically attempted to interfere with our electoral process. And they did so without coordination, collusion or conspiring with any of the candidates, so they have a history of doing it. We'll lay that aside fir a minute, 2016 electoral process. When you learned of Russian efforts, did you have evidence of a connection between the Trump campaign and Russian state actors?

BRENNAN: As I said Mr. Gowdy, I don't do evidence...

GOWDY: Well, I...

BRENNAN: ... and we were uncovering information intelligence about interactions and contacts between U.S. persons and the Russians. And as we came upon that, we would share it with the bureau.

[10:30:05] GOWDY: I appreciate that you don't do evidence, Director Brennan.