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House Intel Committee Hearing; Brennan on Contact with Russia; Manchester Police Terror Attack Briefing; Terror Attack at Pop Concert. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 23, 2017 - 12:00   ET


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: 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 Director of National Intelligence; it wasn't a full interagency community assessment that was coordinated among the 17 agencies and for good reason, because of the nature the sensitivity of the information trying to, once again keep the tightly compartmented. But in terms of the -- the rigor on the -- the (inaudible) tradecraft as well as the sourcing and as you think know, in the classified version there, it's extensively sourced.

It tried to adhere to the -- the general standards.

STEFANIK: So at no point, there was never an individual with any administration outside of the CIA, the FBI, NSA or the DNI that reviewed, edited or was part of the staffing process?

BRENNAN: Not to my knowledge, but I wasn't overseeing the production process and the review process.

STEFANIK: The DNI was overseeing the production process?

BRENNAN: Yes, it was a -- a DNI produced assessments.

STEFANIK: So it's unclear whether anyone else on the NSC the White House was part of the approval or review process from your---from the knowledge that you have?

BRENNAN: They naturally would not have been part of a -- you know, any type of review or editing process, no.

STEFANIK: What happened between December 29, the date of the last information listed in the ICA, and January 6, when the report was published? Were there any additional edits or approval process outside of the norm?

BRENNAN: I think it was those last few days. We're used to -- further refined people worked over the holiday period, but again it was trying to make sure that the products could be provided to the former president and the current president in their first week of January.

STEFANIK: As we know from your testimony, the Russian role in hacking of U.S. political entities was first reported in July 2016 and was publicly acknowledged by the IC in October 2016. Why wasn't the intelligence community wide assessment of these activities ordered until December?

BRENNAN: There were ongoing assessments that were done. And as I mentioned in my opening testimony, it was used to brief the senior- most the government officials, as well as to ensure that the FBI and DHS could do with they needed to do to protect the -- the -- the government institutions that were affected. And so again they were periodic assessments as we were learning more through the process. It was additional detail.

It also allowed us to note that we weren't seeing certain things that we were concerned about and so the intelligence community assessment that was done in December, published in January was the culmination of the -- the work, the assessment, the collection that had taken place in the months before.

STEFANIK: For the record, it's of concern to me that and there was a two-month lag for the administration to direct the DNI to produce a comprehensive report when this was publically acknowledged as an issue months earlier during the year.

I want to touch upon the previous administration's actions on December 29 in response to the Russian government's harassment U.S. officials and -- and cyber operations which declared persona non grata 35 Russian intelligence operatives and the closure of two Russian compounds in the U.S. Did you recommend any action to the -- to the administration prior to December 29 or prior to the November election?

BRENNAN: I wasn't recommending. We had discussed what different options might be before...

STEFANIK: So let me ask, did you suggest or present

different options prior to the election or prior to December 29th to the administration?

BRENNAN: That's something that could be discussed in a closed setting.

STEFANIK: Thank you. My time is expired, or it's about to, and I yield back.

CONAWAY (?): Gentlelady yields (ph) back.

Mr. Hurd, five minutes?

HURD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And Director Brennan, I would like to join my colleagues in thanking you for your years of service, some of which we overlapped in the CIA and I hope you are enjoying not getting late calls at night. And that look -- we looked -- we look fresh.

My -- my first question and -- and I apologize in advance for asking some questions about what did you know when, at certain times. I have difficulty remembering what happened this morning, but nonetheless, on the continuum. In 2016, was collecting intelligence on foreign entities attempts to influence our -- our election a collection priority?

BRENNAN: And when was that?

HURD: Last year, in 2016.

BRENNAN: It was a collection priority, yes.

HURD: It was? So does that fall under the broader counterintelligence collection priorities of the -- of the CIA?

BRENNAN: Yes counter intelligence, as well as Russia collection efforts.

HURD: What is Ops Intel?

BRENNAN: It's operational intelligence that is not maybe formally disseminated as intelligence community, but it is something of operational value to for example an investigation.

HURD: So prior to the -- the full accounting that happened in December 2016 of we're going to do a complete intelligence assessment, was there any Ops Intel that was used or changed into intelligence actually disseminated to the broader community during that assessment?

BRENNAN: There was an effort to make sure that all relevant intelligence that needed to be tapped for the drafting of this intelligence assessment was made available to the appropriate individuals, yes.

HURD: So is it your understanding that there was information that was in operational channels that wasn't available to the entire analytical community. That was included in that December, ultimately, the -- the report that was dated January 6th?

BRENNAN: I think as the -- and again, I would defer to the folks at the agency that classified intelligence report is exceptionally well documented and sourced. And just because something is produced as an intelligence report, it doesn't mean that it goes to everybody in the community.

It is the recipient lists for that and depending on the sensitivity of the information; it is either broadly disseminated or very narrowly disseminated.

HURD: One of the issues that this committee is focused on is figuring out what was the U.S. government's response to these Russian active measures? And what do we need to do to protect ourselves and our allies in the future? And one of my concerns is did we escalate soon enough, quickly enough? Did we notify those that were being targeted soon enough? And did we recognize the intelligence or the information that we had access to, at the time that it was actually collected? And so my question is, knowing what you know now, would you have directed the CIA to do things differently?

BRENNAN: You know, I've asked myself the question. I feel as though we tried to do everything that we could to fulfill our responsibility which was to learn as much as we could about the Russian efforts because we didn't know, again, the extent of it. And so we had to be very careful about what we did so that we would protect certain capabilities and the community as a whole as well as to try to assess what was happening. Kept the executive branch seniors informed, national security council informed, the Gang of Eight informed.

And so 20/20 hindsight is always, you know, I think a lot maybe clearer to some folks. That's what I think this committee and the other committee in the Senate is going to take a look at. Was it perfect? I don't think anything in this world is perfect but I think we try to do the best job that we could.

HURD: So are we -- is the intelligence community prepared or ready to counter covert action directed against us or direct measures as the Russians like to call it? How do we develop a strategy to counter covert action against us? And I only have seven seconds so I know that's difficult for you to answer.

BRENNAN: And that's why it's easy for me to say it's referred to closed session as well as to current agency and other officials.

HURD: Good copy (ph). I yield back, Chairman.

BRENNAN: I do want to take this opportunity to say that I misspoke earlier in response to Mr. Gowdy. I was at CIA headquarters on the morning of January 20. I went there to collect some final personal materials as well as to pay my last respects to a memorial wall. But I was there for a brief period of time and just to take care of some final -- final things that were important to me.

GOWDY: Yes sir, thank you.

CONAWAY: Well, Mr. Brennan, thank you very much. This is right at the end of our open hearing. Our committee is charged with answering some really important questions. As some of my colleagues have said, our -- the success -- the ultimate success of the Russians' disinformation campaign and/or active measures lies with the American citizens and whether or not they're successful or not is up to us -- up to us as citizens to not let that happen.

Part of that is how well we inform them of what happened and where, when, and what, all those kind of good things. And so thank you for being a part of that exercise this morning.

We intend to have a closed session that will start in about 30 minutes downstairs in the spaces. We've got sandwiches available for you if you'd like. With that, we are recessed until we get to closed sessions downstairs. Thank you very much.

[12:10:10] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King in Washington.

You've been watching there the conclusion of a very lengthy house Intelligence Committee hearing. The former CIA director, John Brennan, testifying for several hours. Some noteworthy testimony about intelligence, about possible collusion between Trump associates and the Kremlin during last year's campaign. Director Brennan saying he was worried about that. Worried enough to pass it on to the FBI, saying it's the FBI's job to track the evidence to see if there's actual collusion, but he said he was worried about that.

As we speak here, we're waiting on a number of breaking developments.

The president of the United States landing in Rome this hour. He was in Israel this morning, trying his hand at Middle East peacemaking. We'll watch the president land in Rome. You see Air Force One right there. A big meeting with the pope tomorrow. The two men have differences on immigration, climate change and other issues, but the president continues his international trip.

We're also waiting, tragically, for a police update in Manchester, England. A horrific terrorist attack last night. A concert hall attack by a suicide bomber. A police briefing expected any minute. We'll take you live to Manchester when that happens.

Let's come into the room, though, and discuss what we just heard.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast," Naftali Bendavid of "The Wall Street Journal," Politico's Michael Crowley, and Laura Meckler of "The Wall Street Journal."

Listening to Director Brennan, I want to play right off the top, the Republicans were trying to get him to say there was no evidence of collusion. That there might have been a little smoke, they might have seen some phone calls, maybe there were a couple of meetings that raised curiosities. Repeatedly Trey Gowdy, the lead Republican, tried to get Director Brennan to say there was no solid evidence, but the director said something quite different.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I encountered and am aware of information intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals and it raised questions in my mind again whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals. I don't know whether or not such collusion, and that's your term, such collusion existed. I don't know. But I know that there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether or not U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials.


KING: And correct me if I'm wrong, but that is the most detailed public accounting from somebody in a position to have known and seen the intelligence where he was essentially making the case, I can't -- that's not my job. The CIA director, it's not my job to say it's collusion, but it is my job to pass it on to the FBI when I see -- and he was making clear, not once, not twice but repeated contacts, conversations, et cetera, that he passed on, right?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, POLITICO: Yes, it's probably the biggest insight we've gotten into how this FBI investigation started. You know, it's been known that John Brennan, earlier than most other people in the intelligence or law enforcement communities was convinced that Russia was interfering in the election. And he -- here he was saying not that he had definitive proof, but that he had some evidence that either wittingly or unwittingly Americans, U.S. persons he called them, were cooperating, colluding, whatever you want to call it, with the Russians, then he referred that to the FBI. And, again, the Republicans tried to shake him off that, but he was pretty consistent in saying it.

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": And that certainly wasn't the answer that Gowdy was going for, I mean for sure, over and over again. And it seems like Brennan's answer, to your point, kept on getting more solid and drilling down even more in fact that, no, I was concerned about this. This happened.

NAFTALI BENDAVID, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": And -- but the big question here is witting or unwitting.

KING: Right.

BENDAVID: I mean we had a pretty good sense from a lot of leaks so far that there were some kind of contacts. The question is, were these Trump people who were being approached, groomed, sort of figuratively speaking seduced, or were these people who were in on a conspiracy and they were working with the Kremlin and there is a huge difference between those two things and we didn't get a lot more clarity on that.

LAURA MECKLER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": But if you think about how far this -- our knowledge of this investigation has come in just such a short period of time where, you know, not that long ago we were talking about, is there actual evidence? Well, we know the Russians wanted to influence the election, but, you know, were the Trump people really involved? Were they -- do we really have solid evidence of them talking with the Russians? And now we do. And so it's advancing further and further. And that's, obviously, a problem. So, yes, we don't know the answers to these questions yet and he was not, you know, super forthcoming about the details of what he -- what he -- the agencies had picked up. But I do think it's a big, big problem for the White House.

KING: Right. And you just heard the acting chairman -- Devin Nunez is technically the chairman of the committee, but Mike Conaway of Texas has stepped in on the part that relates to the Russian investigation because Chairman Nunez, because of other controversies we'll leave aside today, had to recuse himself, but saying take 30 minutes and then they're going to go into a more closed briefing where presumably the director can answer.

But to your point, Michael, it's critical, witting or unwitting, because you have people like Carter Page loosely associated with the Trump campaign, giving speeches in Russia, or the Russians just saying, hey, this guy talks to Trump people, let's pay him some money for a speech, let's try to talk to him, let's find out what he knows, or were people, like General Flynn or someone else, actively coordinating with the Russians saying, you have what on Hillary Clinton? You hacked what? Could you release that here, here, here? You know, were you working on the timing of the release and when it was done or what -- what of those materials should be put out to the public?

[12:15:25] Listen, Director Brennan talked a bit about the key question, witting or unwitting.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: 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 20th, 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.


KING: So he's careful about the language there. But that is a key question of whether a couple of people either loosely or closely associated with Trump were just having business dealings through which there were then conversations, or were they actively involved in the mechanics of how it all worked out.

BENDAVID: Yes, one of the interesting things was that Brennan talked a lot in terms of saying, look, I know how the Russians work. I've seen this before. They try to get close to people. Sometimes they use the third party. Based on that knowledge, I was really worried about what was going on here. And it's true that obviously is a key difference between witting or unwitting. But the fact is, it's not going to look great if members of the campaign, and I'm not saying that's the case, were unwitting being used by the Russians.


BENDAVID: That's not so great either. It's not as bad, maybe, as doing it intentionally, but it's also not a great outcome if that's where it all ends up going.

KING: And this is all, you say, where it all ends up going, we don't know the answer to that, but we do know it was part of the president's frustration when he fired James Comey. The president said that himself when he fired the FBI director because he didn't like the way the investigation was going. There's been reporting, and this will be subject of Director Comey's testimony in the near future, about whether the president asked him to shut down the Mike Flynn part of the investigation. Director Comey's notes say he did. The White House says that conversation -- the president himself said that conversation never happened.

It's fascinating reporting, first by "The Washington Post," CNN has confirmed, that the president, he doesn't like talk of this collusion. He doesn't like this at all. And there's reporting that he went to Mike Rogers, who heads the National Security Agency, and Dan Coats, his own appointee, former Republican Senator appointed by Trump to become the new Director of National Intelligence, and asked them, can you guys publicly say there was no collusion? You just heard from Director Brennan there, former Director Brennan, that he at least saw -- you know, it's not his -- he says it's not his job to say that definitively, but he saw enough signs to refer it to the FBI.

Listen to Director Coats today. He's up on Capitol Hill today to discuss global threats. But, of course, he was asked, did the president pressure you to go public and say there's no smoke?


DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I have always believed that given the nature of my position and the information in which we share, it's not appropriate for me to comment publicly.


KING: Let me --

MECKLER: Not exactly a denial.

KING: Not a -- I was going to say, let me play a little CSI here in how Washington works for those of you watching in America. He has every right to say, I talked to the president of the United States about the most sensitive things in the world, therefore, I cannot start the process of discussing my conversations with the president of the United States because if you -- if I answer on this question, you're going to ask me on that question. I get that completely. The president should be able to have private conversations on the most sensitive subject with his advisers. But if the conversation had never happened, he would not be discussing a conversation with the president, right? If he -- if he could have said that never happened, he wouldn't be violating an executive privilege.

KUCINICH: Here's another reason why that story was so important. It makes this no longer President Trump's word against James Comey's word. This is -- it's not a he said/he said situation. It's a he said/he said/he said the president said. It's -- two more officials that the president reportedly went to and asked to bury this or asked to, you know, clear the deck. And that in and of itself gives more credence to whatever Comey is going to say when he -- assuming that he does, in fact, testify.

MECKLER: And -- and -- I mean yet --

: There was something else in that story, I'm sorry, that has gotten less attention farther down. "The Washington Post" reports that White House officials also contacted intelligence officials --


CROWLEY: And asked them to lean on Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn. There is a plausible, charitable interpretation of Trump's actions, which is he had this sense in his head because Clapper said something -- James Clapper, former DNI, said something in a hearing a few months ago to the effect of, I don't know of any investigation into Donald Trump. So he wants more people to say it. That sounds like obstruction of justice if the White House is saying lean on Comey.

KING: We'll come back to this conversation a bit later.

We need to move quickly now to the United Kingdom. The chief constable, Ian Hopkins, now briefing outside the Greater Manchester Police headquarters. That's on the terror attack last night. Let's listen.

CHIEF CONSTABLE IAN HOPKINS, GREATER MANCHESTER POLICE: There has been much speculation on the media and on social media as to the names of some of the victims. And while I accept that some of this is an inevitable, I would ask that people do allow us to work with the coroner and to work with those families and ensure that they are properly supported before we release the names of those that have sadly lost their lives.

[12:20:03] As you would expect, the police response across Greater Manchester has been significant today as we help people continue to go about their daily business and lead their lives here in Greater Manchester. Part of this response has seen us arrest a 23-year-old man in connection with the attack, and we've also carried out two warrants, one in Whalley Range and one in Fallowfield. The one in Fallowfield did see us undertake a controlled explosion to gain entry. And, again, I just wish to reassure those communities, that was something that we were doing to gain safe access and is nothing to be concerned about.

We understand that feelings are very raw right now and that people are bound to be looking for answers. However, more than ever it is vital that our diverse communities that make Greater Manchester such a strong place actually stand together and support each other as we will be doing in the vigil at 6:00 p.m. this evening. We will therefore not tolerate hate towards any parts of our community and should communities be suffering from hate incidents or crime, then I would please urge them to report in to us.

This afternoon, as you saw, we were visited by the home secretary, Theresa May, and the home secretary Amber Rudd, both of whom were given a briefing about our ongoing operations and the investigation over today and the next few days.

I can confirm that the man suspected of carrying out last night's atrocity is 22-year-old Salman Abedi. However, he has not yet been formally named by the coroner and I wouldn't wish to therefore comment any further about him at this stage. Our priority, along with the police counterterrorist network and our

security partners, is to continue to establish whether he was acting alone or working as part of a wider network.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

KING: The chief constable walking away, taking no questions there. Ian Hopkins giving the briefing on last night's terror attack in Manchester, England.

Let me bring in now to our conversation CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, our national security analyst Juliette Kayyem.

Paul, let me start with you.

Not very much details there. The constable saying identifying the suicide bomber, but saying until they get more from the coroner, they're not going to say much about it. Did you hear anything from an investigative standpoint that helped you add any clues or point you in any direction?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, they're trying to figure out whether there was a wider network here. And a key data point there is the fact there has been this one arrest of a 23-year- old man in the area in connection with the attack. But often after attacks we see numerous arrests, numerous raids and sometimes they don't end up in charges in connection with an attack. So we'll have to wait and see whether this individual that is in custody had any kind of relation. We'll have to see what they found at these various addresses that they have searched since the attack.

This is a -- a fast, ongoing investigation. There's been a lot of forensic work done at the scene of the attack in terms of trying to figure out just how sophisticated the device was, just how powerful it was, what kind of bomb making chemicals were inside. And all of that provides clues about whether this was likely that individual acting alone or whether he might have been part of some wider network. The more sophisticated the device, the more powerful the device, then the more likely it is that there would be overseas terror connections, training, and all that kind of stuff because it's pretty tricky to make these kind of explosive devices from chemicals you can go and buy in your drugstore and your local hardware store, John.

But we've heard nothing yet from British officials to suggest that they have found any corroborating evidence whatsoever to ISIS' claim that this individual was a quote/unquote soldier of the caliphate. They'll be looking at that very, very carefully in the hours ahead.

KING: And, Juliette, we're having this conversation. It's graduation season here in the United States. People are getting ready for summer concerts. When we see this, it's becoming all too common, whether this is a lone wolf or whether this is somehow affiliated or coordinated, showing up at a public place in a western democracy where things are relatively open, security can be good inside the arena or inside a perimeter but you can get close enough outside that perimeter to do something like this. From a police practice, from a security standpoint, if there's somebody washing this show in Omaha, Nebraska, or San Francisco, California, do we do things much differently here than they would in Manchester, England?

[12:25:00] JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Not very differently. I mean England has a very sophisticated sort of counterterrorism and also response capacity. You actually saw that last night in the works. They knew how to respond. You see that through most of these European countries that have had terrorist attack.

But you just raised the ultimate point, which is, you know, how do we make these areas safer? And I think safer is the right word. This notion that you can make these open targets safe, we just have to get out of our heads. That part of the benefit of living in societies like ours, there's a certain amount of vulnerability. I don't say that cruelly. I'm a mother of three. And so then on -- so how to think about it is demand of government, you know, sort of layer defenses, layered security so that you can go to a concert, go to an open area with some level of confidence, but also prepare ourselves and our children for what should happen on the other end. The cruelty of this for millions of reasons, but it certainly that after the attack, these are children that haven't cultivated the response and resiliency skills that you and I may have had being a little bit older and so the traumatic impact of that moment, let alone trying to get out, will -- they will have for a long time. And so we need to prepare our children in terms of communication, active shooter protocols, all the stuff that we hate thinking about but have to in a world in which you are never going to get the vulnerability to zero.

KING: Former FBI Supervisory Special Agent Ali Soufan also joins the conversation.

Ali, to the point Paul was discussing earlier, obviously this happened last night. They've identified the suicide bomber. There's been one arrest of a person of interest. We don't know much more about that yet. But take us through what's happening in terms of now that they've identified the bomber, you try to find out who his friends are, but then sort of the intelligence gathering or the evidence gathering I assume involves everything from friends, family, jobs, Internet connections, member of any groups. Take us through all that.


Now I think the intelligence services in the U.K. and in Europe and even in the United States are digging into what they have about Salman Abedi, about his connections, about the fact that he's Libyan. Is there a connection in Libya, for example, and with whom? Is it a connection with ISIS or is it a connection with Islamist groups like the Libyan fighting groups who operate under al Qaeda? They look into his social media presence, his cyber footprint. They collect DNA evidence, CCTV camera inputs. They look into friends and families. I am sure that they already probably conducted a search into his apartment. They talked to family and friends. They see what inspired him to conduct that attack. Was he connected officially to a terrorist organization in Raqqa or Mosul or elsewhere or was he just inspired by family and friends, maybe by friends who already went to conflict zones either in Libya or in Syria or in Iraq or in Yemen. I think they will be looking into all these kind of pieces of evidence and putting the puzzle together in order to get a better idea, in order to get a more factual reasons behind the attack and to determine if it was really a lone wolf or he is connected with others.

As we know from many of the lone wolf attacks we've seen in Europe, they were not really lone in a way that they were connected to people either in their own neighborhoods or in their own country or through cyber connections with people in Raqqa or in Mosul who inspired them, who instigated them and who -- or who requested them to conduct the specific terrorist attacks.

KING: And, Paul Cruickshank, when you -- as we get more details, an eight-year-old girl among the victims. An 18-year-old woman among the victims. Sadly, I think when we look at the age, the suicide bomber in his 20s, I think sadly you're going to answer no when I say does that surprise you as we learn about the new face of terror. After 9/11 it was about people who went to camps in Afghanistan to train and it was all -- it was part of an army. Literally part of an army, a non-state actor but an army. Now, more and more, when you have these horrific incidents and you get to the who -- who's the perpetrator, 22, 23 is not a surprise, is it, sadly?

CRUICKSHANK: It's not a surprise that they're very young people getting involved in ISIS, terrorism, ISIS inspired terrorism. We've also seen people who are older get involved as well. I mean that Westminster attack on the bridge with the car back in March was in his 50s. And so what we see really are a whole range of ages of people getting involved in this.

[12:29:50] Unfortunately, to some degree, this has become a social movement. There's a radicalized community out of there who reinforced each other when they interact in person or online. ISIS is calling on them to stay home. They're saying, don't come to Syria, don't come to Iraq, don't come to Libya, stay right there and carry out attacks there and we'll reach out to you.