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Live Coverage of the House Intelligence Hearing on Russian Interference in the Election. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 11:30   ET


REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well I'm not argue with you Director Comey but it is -- we're going to discuss a lot of important things today. Whether Russia attempted to influence our democratic process is incredibly important.


Whether they sought to influence it as a separate analysis, incredibly important.

The motive behind that interference and influence, incredibly important. Our U.S. response, incredibly important. Some of that may rise to the level of the crime, some of it does not rise to level of a crime. One thing you and I agree on is the felonious dissemination of class -- classified material most definitely is a crime.

So I would ask you and I understand some of the procedures that you are up against. I would -- I would humbly ask you to -- to seek authority from whomever you need to seek authority from. Because I'm going to finish the same way I started. This is an agreement between the American people and its government. We are going to -- we the American people give certain powers to government to keep us safe.

And when those powers are misused and the motive is not criminal investigations or national security, then I'll bet you my fellow citizens are rethinking their side of the equation. Because that U.S. citizen could be them next time. It could be you. It could be me. It could be anyone until we start seriously investigating and prosecuting what Congress thought was serious enough to attach a 10- year felony to.

With that, I would yield back, Mr. Chairman.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Can I -- can I just add a response to what you said? I agree with you, Mr. Gowdy. Two things folks at home should know; first, an unauthorized disclosure of FISA is an extraordinarily unusual event so be assured we're going to take it very seriously because our trust, the American people, and the federal judges that oversee our work, is vital.

And second, that this conversation has nothing to do with 702. Folks often mix them together. 702 is about targeting non-U.S. persons overseas. Pursuant to the FISA statute, the FBI can apply to collect electronic surveillance in the United States but it's a different thing from 702. The conversation you and I are just having is about this which is vital and important, but I just didn't want to leave folks confused.

GOWDY: Director Comey, you are 100 percent correct and I am 100 percent correct in saying that that is a distinction that doesn't make a difference to most of the people watching television. You are exactly correct. What we are reauthorizing this fall has nothing to do with what we are discussing other than it is another government program where the people consent to allow government to pursue certain things with the explicit promise it will be protected.

So you're right, they're different but in the eyes of people watching, it is the U.S. government officials' leaking the name of a U.S. citizen and if it can happen here, it may happen there. Trust me, you and I both want to see it reauthorized. It is in jeopardy if we don't get this resolved.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Our time is expired, I'll yield 15 minutes to Mr. Schiff.


I just want to follow up with a few questions about Roger Stone that I had started with earlier before I passed it to my colleagues. Director Comey, are you aware that Roger Stone played a role in the Trump campaign?

COMEY: I'm not going to talk about any particular person here today, Mr. Schiff. SCHIFF: I'm going to continue to ask these questions because among other things, I want to make sure you are aware of these facts whether you're able to comment on them political dirty tricks?

COMEY: I'll give you the same answer, sir.

SCHIFF: I mentioned before that Mr. Stone was in direct communication with a creature of Russian GRU, Guccifer 2.0 and that's something the intelligence assessment talked about, the role of Guccifer 2.0.

Mr. Stone on August 17, are you aware, received communication from Guccifer 2.0 that said, quote "I'm pleased to say that you are great. Please tell me if I can help you any how. It would be a great pleasure to me." Are you aware of that communication from essentially Russian GRU through Guccifer to Mr. Stone?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer.

SCHIFF: Are you aware that Mr. Stone also stated publicly that he was in direct communication with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks?

COMEY: Same answer.

SCHIFF: Are you aware that Mr. Stone also claimed that he was in touch with an intermediary of Mr. Assange?

COMEY: Same answer. SCHIFF: This is a question I think you can answer. Do you know whether the Russian intelligence service has dealt directly with WikiLeaks or whether they too used an intermediary?

COMEY: We assessed they used some kind of cutout. They didn't deal directly with WikiLeaks. In contrast to D.C. Leaks and Guccifer 2.0.

SCHIFF: In early October, are you aware that Mr. Stone tweeted I have total confidence that my hero, Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. Are you aware of that tweet?

COMEY: I'm back to my original same answer.


SCHIFF: And are you aware that it was only days later that WikiLeaks released the Podesta e-mails?

COMEY: Same answer.

SCHIFF: I'm going to yield now to Mr. Himes.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Mr. Schiff.

I know that we're going through the 90 minute mark in this hearing so let me step back a second and just review the topics because there's a lot on the table and I think my friends on the Republican side will get no argument from this side on the importance of investigating, prosecuting leaks.

Leaks are a threat to our national security whether they're perpetrated by Edward Snowden, whether they're perpetrated by people outside the White House or perhaps as we have seen in the last 60 days, maybe from people inside the White House.

But Mr. Comey, if I can use your phrase, intense public interest. There is intense public interest in the fact that our new president will attack anyone and everyone. He will attack the cast of Hamilton, he will attack Chuck Schumer, he will attack our allies, Mexico, Australia, Germany, he will attack the intelligence community, which you lead. Associating you with McCarthyism and Nazism.

But there's one person in one country which is immune, which is inoculated from any form of presidential attack no matter what the behavior. No matter if there's a violation of the INF nuclear treaty, no matter if Vladimir Putin kills political opponents, the new president defends, obfuscates, does not attack. And the people around the president, Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, have an odd connection to Russia. A series of odd connections. We all campaigned.

I don't think any of our campaign people have connections with a foreign power, much less one that is an adversary of the United States. And further, apart from these weird links, without exception, the individuals I've quoted have dissembled or misled, maybe even lied about the nature of those -- those connections until the political pressure has gotten to a point where they have been fired or recused, in the case of the Attorney General.

So I want to look briefly at one of these individuals -- and Director Comey, I understand your constraints but -- but let me ask a couple of questions regardless. Paul Manafort, who is Roger Stone's business partner and former -- and Trump's former campaign manager, I want to ask you a few questions about him.

First, Director Comey, can you tell me what the Foreign Agents Registration Act is?

COMEY: Sure. Not in an expert way, but it's a statute that requires people who are acting as agents of a non-U.S. government to register with the United States.

HIMES: Right. So the National Security Division of the Department of Justice writes -- this is their manual. The purpose of FARA, as it is known, is to ensure that the U.S. government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws. Unquote.

Would you agree that guarding against foreign espionage or foreign influence measures falls under this heading?


HIMES: In general, is willful violation or failure to register pursuant to this law in some circumstances a crime?

COMEY: I believe it is. I'm not an expert on FARA, but I believe it is.

HIMES: And it could lead, certainly, to counterintelligence concerns, right?


HIMES: Now, Paul Manafort, as reported in the New York Times and other outlets and his deputy, Rick Gates ran a campaign in Washington to lobby government officials and push positive press coverage of pro Russian-Ukrainian officials. Paul Manafort began officially working for former Ukrainian President Yanukovych at least as far back as 2007, according to the Washington Post.

The lobbying was only discovered by Ukraine's new National Anti- Corruption Bureau, which found secret ledgers in Kiev, indicating almost $13 million in undisclosed cash payments from Ukrainian government coffers (ph), to Paul Manafort for lobbying done between 2007 and 2012, for Mr. Yanukovych -- Yanukovych.

Director Comey, did Paul Manafort ever register as a foreign agent under FARA?

COMEY: That's not something I can comment on.

HIMES: Whether he registered or not is not something that you can comment on?


HIMES: OK. Paul Manafort was, however, Donald Trump's campaign manager in July of 2016, correct?

COMEY: Mr. Himes, I really don't wanna get into answering questions about any individual U.S. person.


COMEY: Look, I'm -- it's obvious from the public record. But I don't wanna start down the road of answering questions about somebody.

HIMES: OK. Well, I think the facts would show that he never did register.


But as the ranking member pointed out, it perhaps should come as no surprise that the Republican platform, which was drafted at the Republican Convention in July of 2016, underwent a pretty significant change with respect to the American response to Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine and their aggression in that country.

It appears, from our standpoint, that we had -- we had perhaps somebody who should've registered under FARA pulling the strings, there. There's more though and I don't know how much you'll be able to comment on this. But I wanna just explore for a second, the nature of the Russian government, because oftentimes the question becomes, was there contact with Russian officials. And I want to read you a brief quote from a book on Putin's government. This is by Professor Karen Dawisha who wrote, "Instead of seeing Russian politics as an inchoate democratic system being pulled down by history, accidental autocrats, popular inertia, bureaucratic incompetence, or poor Western advice, I conclude that from the beginning Putin and his circle sought to create an authoritarian regime ruled by a close-knit cabal -- who used democracy for decoration rather than direction."

Mr. Comey, is it fair to say that the line that exists in the United States between government officers and government officials, is blurred in Russia? That there may be oligarchs or other individuals who on the surface appear to be private citizens, but who have connections to this close-knit cabal who might be agents of influence or might be doing the Kremlin's bidding in contact with others?

COMEY: That's fair to say and one of our counterintelligence missions is to try to understand who are those people and are they acting on behalf of the Russian government, those Russian citizens.

HIMES: Is it generally true that there is a category of Russian oligarchs that are likely part of this close-knit cabal?

COMEY: In a general sense.

HIMES: And if they go way back with Vladimir Putin, do the chances increase that they might be connected with the KGB, as is asserted by Professor Dawisha?

COMEY: The longevity of the association can be a consideration.

HIMES: And the KGB was the Russian intelligence service under the Soviet Union, right?

COMEY: Correct, former...

HIMES: And the Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union?

COMEY: Correct.

HIMES: Right. I'll just observe, Renault Akhmetov, a steel and iron (ph) or a magnate or oligarch, is the richest man in Ukraine and a strong Putin ally. He was the one who reportedly recommended Paul Manafort to Yanukovych.

Mr. Comey, last set of questions from me, I have a report that appeared in CNN yesterday. The headline is, "Former Trump Campaign Chief Paul Manafort Wanted for Questioning in Ukraine Corruption Case." And I -- I raise this with you because the story is told of Paul Manafort acting on behalf of Ukraine's former justice miniature -- minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych, which who was the justice minister under the previous pro-Russian regime who -- and I'll just read a segment from the story here.

Who was involved in jailing the former Prime Minister Tymoshenko who was the main political rival of the Kremlin backed President Viktor Yanukovych who Manafort advised until he was deposed in 2014. Tymoshenko was released from jail at the same time that Yanukovych was ousted. Many saw her sentencing as politically motivated by the pro- Russian government.

In response to the deterioration international climate, Ukrainian prosecutors say Manafort drafted a public relations strategy that included hiring Skadden Arps, an American law firm, to review the Tymoshenko case. And show the conviction had a sound legal basis. The story goes on to talk about the transfer of over $1 million, potentially, illegally from Ukrainian coffers (ph) to Skadden Arps.

And the reason I bring all this up with you is because the story also says and it appears to have been confirmed by the Department of Justice that the current Ukraine regime, hardly a friend of the Russians. And very much targeted by the Russians has made seven requests to the United States government's -- the United States government for assistance under the MLA treaty in securing the assistance of Paul Manafort as part of this on anti-corruption case. And in fact, the story says that you were presented personally with a letter asking for that assistance.

So my question Director Comey is, is that all true? Have you been asked to provide assistance to the current Ukrainian government with respect to Paul Manafort? And how do you intend to respond to that request?

COMEY: It's not something I can comment on. I can say generally, we have a very strong relationship and cooperation in the criminal and national security areas with our Ukrainian partners, but I can't talk about the particular matter.

HIMES: The story says that the DOJ confirmed that there have been requests for assistance on this matter.


You can't go as far as -- as confirming that in fact there have been these requests made?

COMEY: If they've done that, I would need them to do it again. I -- I can't comment on it.

HIMES: OK. Well, I appreciate that and with that I will yield back the remainder of my time to the ranking member.

SCHIFF: And I yield to Terri Sewell.

REP. TERRI SEWELL (D), ALABAMA: Thank you Mr. Ranking Member.

My questions this morning really revolve around the resignation of the former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Director Comey, much as been made about Russia's historical interference with political elections around the world meant to cause discord and -- and -- and disunity especially in Western alliance's. Does the FBI generally assume that Russian ambassadors to the United States like Ambassador Kislyak, are at least overtly, collecting intelligence on influential Americans, especially political leaders.

COMEY: Ms. Sewell, that's not something I can answer in an open setting.

SEWELL: Am I right that in the -- that in the Russian playbook -- that it's in the Russian playbook to use diplomats and business people and Russian intelligence officers, whether declared or not to, collect intelligence on influential Americans for the purpose of affecting U.S. policy?

COMEY: I can answer as a general matter. Nation states that are adversaries of United States use traditional intelligence officers, sometimes used intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover, use people we call co-opties (ph), maybe a private citizens, students, academics, business people, all manner of human beings can be used in a -- in an intelligence collection operation. But I'm not gonna talk about the particular.

SEWELL: Would someone like Ambassador Kislyak Play that type of role for Russia?

COMEY: I can't say here.

SEWELL: The declassified January intelligence community assessment report that your agency helped to draft, the report that's entitled assessing Russian activities and intentions in the recent U.S. elections specifically states that, quote, "Since the Cold War, Russian intelligence efforts related to the United States elections have primarily focused on foreign intelligence collections that could help Russian leaders understand a new U.S. administration's plans and priorities," end quote.

So knowing what we know about Russia's efforts and the role of the Russian ambassador, Director Comey, would you be concerned if any one of your agents had a private meeting with the Russian ambassador?

COMEY: If an FBI agent had a private meeting with a Russian government employee of any kind, it would be concerning and I assume by private, one that's not disclosed or part of their operational activity, yes.

SEWELL: That's right. And would you expect that agent to report that meeting?


SEWELL: Admiral Rogers, similar question. If -- would you be concerned if one of your intelligence officers had a private meeting with the Russian ambassador? And would you expect that intelligence officer to report that meeting?

ADMIRAL MICHAEL S. ROGERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: Disclosures of interactions with foreign governments is a requirement for all our employees to include myself, for example.

SEWELL: I ask these questions because on at least four occasions that I can count, Mr. Flynn, a three-star general and a former intelligence officer, someone with influence over the U.S. policy and someone with knowledge of state secrets and the incoming national security advisor, communicated with and met with the Russian ambassador and failed to disclose it.

So I ask you directors, if you wouldn't stand for your own staff to do this, why should we, the American people accept Michael Flynn doing it?

COMEY: Ms. Sewell, I'll let Mike Rogers take it next but I -- I don't -- I can't speak to what the disclosure obligations are for other people in the government so it's hard for me to answer that. I can answer and I answered, I hope accurately with respect to one of the FBI special agents.

ROGERS: And I likewise would answer the same way in terms of the NSA.

SEWELL: I yield back...

NUNES: ... gentleman's time -- gentleman's time has expired. I'll yield myself 15 minutes.

Director Comey, you announced this morning that there'll be an investigation into Trump associates possible and President Trump and anyone around the campaign and any association with the Russian government. If this committee or anyone else for that matter, someone from the public, comes with information to you about the Hillary Clinton campaign or their associates or someone from the Clinton Foundation, will you add that to your investigation? They have ties to Russian intelligence services, Russian agents, would that be something of interest to you?

COMEY: People bring us information about what they think is improper unlawful activity of any kind, we will evaluate it. Not just in -- not just in this context. Folks send us stuff all the time. They should keep going that.


NUNES: Do you think it's possible that the Russians would not be trying to infiltrate Hillary Clinton's campaign, get information on Hillary Clinton and try to get to people that are around that campaign or the Clinton Foundation?

COMEY: I'm not prepared to comment about the particular campaigns but the Russians in general are always trying to understand who the future leaders might be and what levers of influence there might be on them.

NUNES: I just hope that if -- if information does surface about the other campaigns, not even just Hillary Clinton's but any other campaigns, that you would take that serious also if the Russians were trying to infiltrate those campaigns around them.

COMEY: Of course we would.

NUNES: OK. I yield to Mr. Conaway.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY (R), TEXAS: Thanks, Chairman. Gentlemen, thanks for being here.

Admiral Rogers, you'd mentioned analytic standards earlier in the conversation. Are those standards the same for all intelligence analysts across the various agencies?

ROGERS: There's a broad set of intelligence community promulgated standards for all of us and then there are specific issues associated, for example, with a particular authority that you're using to collect the information in the first place.

CONAWAY: So, gentleman, same thing your -- your agency -- your analysts would have I think similar type standards?

COMEY: Correct. That's one of the really good things that's happened since 9/11, especially since 2004 is the adoption of a common set of tradecraft provisions.

CONAWAY: So, on a CPA and we have generally astounded -- generally accepted accounting standards which are promulgated across a variety of things. Are those same standards publicly promulgated as -- but generally disseminated through all of your analysts, I would assume would have some sort of a test that they know those standards? ROGERS: I think the specifics of the IC promulgated standards are classified but I could take that one for the record.

CONAWAY: When the IC attributes a hacking to a particular actor, you do that through generally forensic evidence. But when it comes to try to determine intent foreign leaders, can you walk us through how the NSA does that or the FBI does that?

ROGERS: We assess the range of information that we've collect -- collected in an attempt to generate understanding as to not only what has occurred, but part of the intelligence professional -- profession is also trying to understand why, what was the intent. We'll use the range of information we have available to us, while we're primarily a single source organization.

It's one reason why organizations like CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, which take multiple sources try to put together a complete picture. So we're just one component of a broader effort.

CONAWAY: Director Comey, anything different than that?

COMEY: No, it's about putting together a puzzle. Sometimes from forensics alone, you can get a pretty good indication as to what they must be intending to accomplish, other times requires human sources and additional a signals intelligence to give you that sense.

CONAWAY: So both you agree, though, it's rarely a precise art -- or a precise science of determining intent of any foreign leader.

ROGERS: That's correct.

COMEY: All of intelligence work requires judgment. That's at the at the center of it.

ROGERS: But I will say in some cases, it's a much clearer case than in others. There are some...


CONAWAY: It depends on the sources you have inside a particular foreign leader's shop.

ROGERS: I'm not going to get into specifics.

CONAWAY: Just in general. If you have somebody whose next door neighbor -- never mind. Pivoting to the January 7 -- January 6 intelligence community assessment, both your agencies agree with the assessment that the Russian's goal was to undermine the public faith in U.S. democratic process. Is that still your assessments?



CONAWAY: Same assessment said that the Russian's goal was to -- wanted to denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency and that Putin wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he publicly blamed her since 2011 for insighting mass protests against his regime in late 2011, early 2012. You both still agree with that assessment?



CONAWAY: And then finally, Admiral Rogers, that assessment went on to say that president Putin and the Russian government aspired to help president -- I guess he would have been candidate Trump at the time -- but president-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton. You had a lower...

ROGERS: Confidence level.

CONAWAY: ... confidence level. Is that still the case?

ROGERS: Yes, sir.

CONAWAY: Can you tell the group why you were... ROGERS: I'm not going to get into specifics in an unclassified forum but for me, it boiled down to the level and nature of the sourcing on that one particular judgment was slightly different to me than the others.

COMEY: To be clear, Mr. Conaway, we all agreed with that judgment.

ROGERS: We all agreed with the judgment.

CONAWAY: Right, right, right. But you really agreed and he almost really agreed.

COMEY: Not term out folks use, but I...


CONAWAY: Director Comey, in terms of laying out those three assessment and whether or not the IC was consistent in its view of those three assessments across the entire campaign. And we walked through kind of the FBI's walk down that path.


Did -- as of early December of '16, did the FBI assess that the active measures were to undermine -- by the Russians were to undermine the faith in U.S. Democratic process as you come to that conclusion by early December?

COMEY: I think that's right, December of last year.

CONAWAY: Sixteen, yes sir.

COMEY: I think we're at that point, yes.

CONAWAY: And then active measures conducted against Secretary Clinton, to denigrate her, hurt her campaign and also undermined her presidency?

COMEY: Correct.

CONAWAY: All right. And then, the conclusion that active measures were taken specifically to help President Trump's campaign, you had that -- by early December, you already had that conclusion?

COMEY: Correct, that they wanted to hurt our democracy, hurt her, help him. I think all three we were confident in, at least as early as December.

CONAWAY: OK. The -- the paragraph that gives me a little concern there, in terms of just the timing of when all of that occurred because I'm not sure if we went back and got that exact same January assessment six months earlier, it would've looked the same. Because, you say, when we further assessed Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

Any idea when that clear preference in the analysis, when did that get into the lexicon of whether you talk back and forth among yourselves on a -- on a classified basis?

COMEY: I don't know for sure, but I think that was a fairly easy judgment for the community. He -- Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much, that the flipside of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.

CONAWAY: Yeah and that and that my work on Saturday afternoon when the -- my wife's Red Raiders are playing the Texas Longhorns. She really likes the Red Raiders. But all the rest of the time, I mean the logic is that because he really didn't like president -- the Candidate Clinton, that he automatically liked Trump. That assessment's based on what?

COMEY: Well, it's based on more than that. But part of it is and we're not getting into the details of it here, but part of it is the logic. Whoever the Red Raiders are playing, you want the Red Raiders to win, by definition, you want their opponent to lose.

CONAWAY: I know, but this says that -- that you wanted both of them -- you wanted her to lose and wanted him to win. Is that what you were saying?

COMEY: Right, they're inseparable -- right, it's a two -- it's a two person...

CONAWAY: Right, right.

COMEY: ... event.

CONAWAY: I got you. So I'm just wondering when you decided you wanted him to win?

COMEY: Well, logically when he wanted her to lose, wanted...

CONAWAY: No, no, no, I'm not talking about him, Putin, I got that. I got that. But the question is, we're on this clear -- well let me finish up then.

So we go through that sentence about the clear preference for Donald Trump. And we don't know exactly when you guys decided that was the case. Then it says, when it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign then focused on undermining her expected presidency.

So -- and then election then says, the government -- the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump election chances. So when did they not think she was gonna win?

COMEY: Well, the assessment of the intelligence community was as the summer went on and the polls appeared to show that Secretary Clinton was going to win, the Russians sort of gave up and simply focused on trying to undermine her. It's your red raiders. You know they're not going to win, so you kind of hope key people on the other team get hurt so they're not such a tough opponent down the road. So there was at some point --

CONAWAY: You believe that the FBI was consistent through early December on that that was the case? That they assessed that they really wanted Trump to win it, and were working to have him win and her lose?

COMEY: Yes. Our analysts had a view that I don't believe changed from late fall through to the report on January 6th that it had those three elements.

CONAWAY: All right. So then on December 9th well in advance of the January 6 deal, "The Washington Post" put out an article. Their lead sentence was -- and again, CIA, they're not here today, but we hope to have them next week -- concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in '16 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency rather than to undermine the confidence in the electoral system. Rather than just undermining. They don't mention Mrs. Clinton at all.

And then it says to help Trump get elected. The U.S. senior briefed on the intelligence position -- the U.S. official briefed by intelligence presentation, U.S. senators, said that's the consensus view.

How much did this -- this is written by a guy named Adam Entous, Elaine something, and Greg Miller. Did they help draft the July -- January 6th document for the intel committee?


COMEY: I'm sorry?

CONAWAY: Did those writers from "The Washington Post" help you write the January 6 assessment?

COMEY: No, they did not.