Former CIA Director John Brennan disclosed during congressional testimony that he had seen intelligence indicating communications between the President Donald Trump's campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 election. He added that that he did not see evidence of collusion between the two parties, but that he had concerns individuals involved in the campaign could have unwittingly been used by Russian intelligence (video below).
On May 23, Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee as part of the panel's investigation. The former CIA director told lawmakers that it was a certainty that the Russian government "brazenly interfered in the 2016 election process."
Brennan stated that he had seen intelligence of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials that concerned him.
"I encountered and am aware of information and 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," Brennan said, according to Politico. "And it raised questions in my mind again whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals."
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The former CIA director said that he could not determine whether any U.S. citizen during the presidential race had wittingly colluded with Russian officials, noting that Russian intelligence often dupes their targets.
"Frequently, individuals on a treasonous path do not even realize they're on that path until it gets to be too late," Brennan said.
When pressed to cite any evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, Brennan asserted that the burden of proof did not rest on the CIA, The Hill reports.
"I don't do evidence, I do intelligence... We were uncovering intelligence about contacts between U.S. persons and the Russians," Brennan said. "As we came upon that, we would share it with the Bureau."
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Brennan added that the FBI's probe of the Trump campaign's ties to the Russian government was "certainly well founded and needed to look into these issues."
As to why Russia would interfere in the election process, Brennan said that Russian President Vladimir Putin viewed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a potential thorn in his side and wanted to damage her campaign. Brennan added that he believed the Russian government expected Clinton to win the election and that their cyber espionage against her campaign was an attempt to weaken her before assuming office, according to NPR.
The former CIA director recounted that he had personally warned Russia's FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov in August 2016 that attempts to subvert the election would hurt any reconciliation between the U.S. and Russia. He added that Bortnikov denied any meddling, but that he had promised to tell Putin that the U.S. was concerned.
Brennan was also asked to give his take on Trump reportedly leaking sensitive intelligence to Russian officials. On May 10, Trump allegedly disclosed an Islamic State group plot to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during a meeting in the White House. The intelligence had come from a U.S. ally and could have potentially compromised a crucial source within ISIS, The Washington Post reports.
Brennan stated that if the reporting was proven accurate, then the president had violated protocol. He also blasted the leaking of classified information from within the Trump administration to the press.
"I think the unauthorized disclosure of classified information, at all times, hurts our national security, compromises our intelligence capabilities, and needs to be investigated, needs to stop," Brennan said, according to the Washington Examiner. "Absolutely."