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Senate Intel Chiefs Face Media on Trump/Russia Ties. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired March 29, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] SEN. RICHARD BURR, (R-NC), CHAIRMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: And let me just say that we can't say enough with the mission of the Senate committee is, which is to look at all activities that Russia might have taken to alter or influence the 2016 elections in the United States. In addition to that, the mission of the committee is to look at any campaign contacts from either committee, with Russian government or ran government officials that might have influenced in any way, shape, or form, the election process. We take that very seriously. It's not something that can done quickly.
And when you look at our committee, it is, in fact, the oversight role that we function in every single day. This is just on a little larger scale. For those that might think or have suggested that this is outside of our expertise, let me remind you, the last public investigation that we did was the Senate investigation into Benghazi. We devoted three professional staff to that investigation. It took one year. And in comparison to the public hearings that happened in the House, our report and findings were out much quicker than what they were. And I think are consistent, in fact, what the House process looked like at the end.
So, let me share with you what we've accomplished to date. We have devoted seven professional staff positions to this investigation. These are staffers who already had the clearance and already had the knowledge of the materials that they were going to look at, that started on day one. Now, what was day one? Day one was the first public hearing that the committee held with Director Clapper, Director Comey, Admiral Rogers, and Director Brennan. When they came to the United States Senate to testify in the completion of the ICA, the report of the last administration on Russian's involvement in the elections. The full committee had an opportunity to ask every one of the four I.C. members of initial questions, things that we knew to ask as of that time. Let me assure you that as this investigation continues, we will certainly give those individuals at least once, if not more opportunities to come back, either in an official capacity or in a retired capacity, to come back and chair with us answers to questions we might have.
The staff has been provided an unprecedented amount of documents. Those documents include documents that up to this point have only been shared with the Gang of Eight and staff directors on the House and Senate side. It's safe to say that our staff currently is working through thousands of raw intelligence and analytic products to, one, determine whether the process that the reviewers went through to compile their report were in agreement with and to see if our confidence levels on their ratings of low, medium, or high confidence, in fact, match.
To date, as I said, they've been provided thousands of pages of documents and have reviewed, to date, a majority of those documents. We're within weeks of completing the review of those documents.
I might say that we're in constant negotiations with the intelligence community about access to additional documents, to where we access those documents, to how our staff notes are kept, and whether, in fact, we have the capabilities within the intelligence community spaces to use computers. This is not abnormal. It's been involved in every investigation I've seen in the 17 years I've been on either the House or the Senate committee. So, I don't find this to be unusual, but it is challenging, to say the least. It does not yet include the additional documents that the committee has requested and others that we will request, to enable us ultimately to come to some finality findings and conclusions of the mission of this investigation.
[14:35:37] This week, we began to schedule our first interviews. To date, we have made 20 requests for individuals to be interviewed by the committee. As we stand here today, five are already scheduled on the books, and probably within the next 10 days, the remaining 15 will have a scheduled date, for those individuals to be interviewed by our staff. We anticipate inviting additional interviews and some of those individuals may turn into private and public hearings by the committee, but yet to be determined.
There have been a number of individuals who have volunteered to be interviewed. Let me assure you that they will be processed, as the committee determines we're ready to conduct those interviews, or if they're even pertinent to the issues that we immediate to look into.
The only individual who's publicly been identified to date is Jared Kushner. And the committee will conduct an interview with Mr. Kushner when the committee decides that it's time for us to set a date, because we know exactly the scope of what needs to be asked of Mr. Kushner.
Tomorrow's hearing, which will be the first public hearing that we've held, is to examine Russian capabilities, their capabilities to influence elections globally, what Russia has done in the past, which is important for us to bring to light for the American people, what they're doing today, both here and throughout the world and, more importantly, what we should expect for the future. We've got two panels, two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon, to look at specifically the policies that we think Russia is implementing and to look at the technologies that display their capabilities.
I would conclude with this, and I'll turn it over to Mark. We will always say to you this investigation's scope will go wherever the intelligence leads it. So, it is absolutely crucial that every day we spend trying to separate fact from fiction and to find some intelligence thread that sends us to the factual side of all the names and all the places that you in this room have written about. Just the fact that you say it doesn't mean it's fact. It's incumbent on our staff and our members to, in fact, connect that intelligence thread to that, for us to make some determination as to the relevance of it in our investigation.
So, Mark and I work hand in hand on this. And contrary to maybe popular belief, we're partners to see that this is completed and that we've got a product at the end of the day that we can have bipartisanship in supporting -- Mark?
SEN. MARK WARNER, (D-VA), RANKING MEMBER, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Richard.
Let me -- I'm going to repeat many of the things that the chairman has said. But I think it's important to hear it from both of us.
Obviously, there's a lot of drama out there, about stories that all of you are running down, and I think echoing what the chairman has said, it's important for us, at least, and I think all of us here to remember to not lose sight about what the investigation is about: An outside foreign adversary effectively sought to hijack our most critical Democratic process, the election of a president, and in that process, decided to favor one candidate over another. I can assure you, they didn't do it, because it was in the best interest of the American people. Russia's goal, Vladimir Putin's goal is a weaker United States, weaker economically, weaker globally, and that should be a concern to all Americans, regardless of party affiliation. We're here to assure you, and more importantly, the American people who are watching and listening, that we will get to the bottom of this.
Richard and I have known each other a long time, and the chairman and I both have a serious concern about what the Russians have done and continue to do around the world. And I'll come back to this in a moment when I talk about tomorrow's hearing. But some of the techniques that Russia used in this election, as we find more and more, I think, would send a chill down anyone who believes in a Democratic process in this country or around the world. And echoing what the chairman has said, the committee will follow the intelligence wherever it leads. We need to get this right, and sometimes, that means, especially for somebody like me, who wants things done yesterday, that it's not going to happen as quickly as I would like, or as many members of our committee would like. But getting it right is more importantly than getting it done quickly.
[14:40:11] And I want to echo again something the chairman said. What I have been remarkably proud of is that the committee on both sides of the aisle, virtually every member, the level of seriousness that they put into this work, the attention that they have given, and the commitment, as well, to follow the intel wherever it leads.
And I'll get into what the chairman has already said. Over the last month, we've seen some progress. Our staff has been out reviewing these thousands of pages of documents, trying to look back at the source materials. We also, as the chairman has mentioned it, are starting to talk to some of those analysts who helped put together this report. And in many ways, we want to find out what was potentially left on the cutting room floor that may not have met the full levels of confidence, but still might be worthy of further looking. And as the chairman mentioned, a number of those interviews are scheduled. The intelligence community, for the most part, in terms of access to
people, has been very cooperative. On some of the documents, with some parts of the intelligence community, we still have a challenge. But we cannot do this job, we cannot tell the American people our conclusions, unless we have access to all the pertinent information. And one of the things that I really appreciate is that the chairman and I have committed to getting that. And I know that the patriots that work in the intelligence community want us, as well, to go wherever the facts lead.
As has been mentioned, the only person we've announced is Jared Kushner, and we will schedule that, again, when we have the facts so we can ask the appropriate questions. Also, Richard said, there's a lot of names -- the chairman has mentioned some of the folks like Carter Page or Paul Manafort or Roger Stone. We've indicated, there will be appropriate time, but it's got to be done in a timely way so any individual, those and others, and there will be others, that we have the right questions to ask.
Tomorrow's hearing, as the chairman mentioned, will be the first in a series. I think it will be interesting because some of the techniques which the Russians used in this past election go to the heart of how our elections work. I was a technology guy before I went into politics, and the very technology that has made our lives simpler can be misused in way to put false information for folks who potentially only get their news off a Twitter feed or a Facebook news feed, and that raises serious questions, even beyond this investigation.
So with that, I again want to thank the chairman for the cooperation we've had. And I think I speak on behalf of all the committee members, the most important thing we want to let you know is we're going to get this right and follow all the intelligence.
Happy to take your questions.
BURR: Yeah, we'll take your questions. Let me set the ground rules, real quick. We'll answer anything about the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation. We will not take questions on the House Intelligence Committee. We would refer those to the House Intelligence Committee.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The White House has continually said that any discussion about coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials is a hoax. Anyone who has seen any information about this knows there's nothing there. So from what you've seen so far, can you definitively rule out that there was no coordination whatsoever between Trump officials and Russian officials during the election?
BURR: It would be crazy to try to draw conclusions from where we are in the investigation. I think Mark and I have committed to let this process go through, before we form any opinions and I would hope that that's what you would like us to do. As much as we would like to share minute by minute, even the snapshots we get as a team going through it are not always accurate when we find the next piece of intelligence. So let us get a little deeper into this before you ask us to write the conclusions. That's clearly something we intend to do down the road.
All the way in the back, real quick?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, Senator Wyden sent a letter to both you and Senator Warner, urging the committee to look closer into financial ties between Trump associates and Russia. Is the general sense that the committee is not already investigating the financial aspect of this closely enough?
BURR: I think the committee is looking anywhere intelligence guests that there might have been any type of relationship of effort to influence U.S. elections.
WARNER: And I would simply add that I for a long time, before we even started the investigation, have believed that this president, like all prior presidential candidates of both parties, should have, in the best interest of the American people, release their tax returns.
[14:35:11] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is (INAUDIBLE) among the 20 you've identified? And if necessary, does your committee have the resources to interview persons outside the United States?
BURR: We're not going to get into names that are on our list, but I can assure you that it's length lengthy. Mark and I have both agreed that we're willing to issue subpoenas. It's tough to make a subpoena going outside of the United States, so we understand the limitations. But I'll only say this, that he and I are tapping into everything that we can to understand how we increase our reach in the ability to investigate and to get intelligence that would be pertinent to the investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you personally coordinated with the White House at all on the scope of this investigation? And how do you prevent it from going off track?
BURR: No, sir, I have not. And it's the relationship and the trust we have.
WARNER: Let me also add to that. There have been -- all the members of the committee, I have been constantly impressed. And we know it's challenging. Some folks want this to go away, some folks want this to be done, us reaching conclusions tomorrow or yesterday. But so many committee members on both sides of the aisle have constantly stepped up. So I think it's not only our relationship, but it's the fact that the committee has got our back and they want to see it through.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Without naming another committee, could you speak to the level of satisfaction on both sides of the aisle, within your committee, about the integrity of the committee, how it is working, its functions with and so on?
BURR: Well, I think the first assessment I would make is that not only for the first time have our members had access to Gang of Eight information. Seven of our professional staff slots have access to Gang of Eight information. That is unprecedented in the history of the committee. And so I think it starts with the trust that the intelligence community has with the staff, the professional staff, and with the membership at large. It would be extremely easy for them to deny us to have access to some of the country's most sensitive things that deal with sources and methods. They have not. And I think that's what gives us high hopes that we can reach a conclusion, that has bipartisan support and that we feel confident explored every crevice that we can find.
WARNER: We are going to need to make sure we get all of that information. And part of that is the normal course, I think, of the intelligence community having concerns. And I think we've earned their trust. But it continues.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, (INAUDIBLE) one is that Paul Manafort has written to the community and I understand his lawyers have been talking to your staff trying to set up his interview. Can you tell us whether that has happened already?
And secondly, from a logistical standpoint, hearing that people go and read some of these documents at the CIA, for instance, it's a bewildering amount of information and they don't even know where it begins and where it ends. Is there something being done to help you get through this volume, large volume of information?
BURR: Listen, I'm not sure who you're hearing it from. It's not the professional staff that's doing it. Is it a lot of information? Absolutely. Is it clear to know where to go? Yeah, it's in three binders. In Benghazi, our professional staff had to go out and figure out what intelligence they needed to ask for. Didn't have access to Gang of Eight. Had to figure out who to interview. And so I'm not going to tell you this one's easier. This is one of the biggest investigations that the Hill has seen in my tenure here.
WARNER: And just to add, you know, the challenging of the times. You go to a footnote and you've got to go back. Any of those individuals that are out in the public, we'll have to assess whether it's appropriate to see them. Many of you might think it will be appropriate. We've got to know what the right questions are to ask. And to do that, you've got to have the underlying documents.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Not scheduled?
BURR: Not scheduled.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator Warner, there are challenges (INAUDIBLE) agencies in particular that are (INAUDIBLE)?
WARNER: I knew you were going to ask that. And I'm going to not say, but I want to make sure the intelligence community knows, some have been very responsive, some less so. But to do our job, we have to have this information.
[11:49:54] BURR: And let me answer on behalf of the agencies. Not every document that an agency holds is the product of that agency. So, it is impossible from a legal standpoint for one agency to provide us another agency's document, so the faster we can work through who has ownership rights, the quicker we can ask the appropriate agency for a specific document. Let me go right here.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As part of your investigation, are you asking the House chairman to share his sources with you? And will you seek to review the White House visitor's logs?
BURR: We're not asking the House to play any role in our investigation. We don't plant to play any role in their investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator Warner, are you confident that the White House is not interfering in the integrity of this investigation? And for both of you, is the ultimate aim to write a bipartisan reform at the end of this investigation?
WARNER: Let me start with the second part of your question. Absolutely, in terms of bipartisan. If we don't come to some joint conclusion, with the manipulation that took place in the election and with the spirit of the American people saying, what's going on here, I think we would not fulfill our duty.
On the first question, I see no evidence. And I think one of the things that Mr. Kushner volunteering to testify was a good sign, but, I've said repeatedly, and I think the chairman agrees, you know, this is the right venue, but if we see any attempt to stifle us with information or cut off the intelligence professionals giving us the access we need, you'll hear from us.
BURR: Down here.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) potential rewards Russia with its questions of changes to the Republican Party platform, a convention or the way the president constantly refuses to criticize Putin. Is that part of what you're looking at?
BURR: That's not in the scope of the investigation. I'll leave that up to you guys to report.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has the White House or the DOJ or anybody blocked Sally Yates from giving you guys information (INAUDIBLE)?
WARNER: I would like to see Ms. Yates at some point. I did see her White House comment from the White House spokesman yesterday, that he said that they would be happy to have her testimony. I know there might be some DOJ concerns. But that's something we have to jointly decide on, when to take place.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So they haven't blocked her giving (INAUDIBLE)?
BURR: No. Yeah?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I think a lot of Americans want to know if the president himself had anything to do with this. We have a government who has a trust issue right now. A lot of Americans. Is there anything that you've seen, either of you or your staff, that would raise any direct links to the president himself, to what happened last year?
BURR: Again, we won't take a snapshot in time and make any observations on it, but we know that our challenge is to answer that question for the American people, in our conclusions to this investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Any circumstance in which you wouldn't share with Mr. Warner your sources on this investigation?
BURR: He usually knows my sources before I do.
WARNER: And let me assure you, I've also got his cell phone. He hears from me sometimes more than he would like.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The White House and supporters of the president complain at times that the intelligence community has leaked intelligence or communications scooped up by members of the -- by Trump associates and members of the transition team improperly. Does the scope of the investigation include any of that?
BURR: The normal course of business for the Intelligence Committee is about leaks. So that's an ongoing process that we look at. We will try to assess leaks if they take place during the investigation in some way. And if we find them, we will refer them to the appropriate law enforcement agency by requesting a crimes report.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you seen anything that would suggest (INAUDIBLE)?
BURR: My answer would probably be no, but we're so early in the investigation, I'm not sure we've triaged every piece that's out there.
WARNER: And I think one of the things we're both very concerned, because leaks can sometimes be extraordinarily damaging to our capacity and to the men and women who serve our country in the I.C. I do think that -- editorial comment here -- if the administration has said they did nothing, then I would hope they would continue, there's nothing to leak, but on the other hand, the more cooperation we can get, the sooner we can move forward and get to the end and move this cloud.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) has an active counterintelligence investigation, has that caused you to change your investigation at all in terms of trying not to step on their toes or to do anything that could have undermined a potential criminal investigation?
[14:55:18] BURR: I'll leave up to the FBI to make any comments on ci investigation, if there is one, and the extent. But we're always conscious of the fact that we may go down a road and find that we're in conflict with a law enforcement process, at which time, we will work with the appropriate people to try to remedy that.
WARNER: But there are historical precedents, obviously. Watergate had an investigation, while a DOJ investigation was going on.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator Warner, can you give us a sense of the scale of what the Russians allegedly did in the terms of number of people and the different facets of the -- that?
WARNER: Let me start off on that. I think -- we know about the hacking and the selective leaking of information. But as a former tech guy, what really concerns me is at least some reports -- and we've got to get to the bottom of this -- that there were upwards of a thousand paid Internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, in effect, taking over a series of computers, which are then called a botnet. They can then generate news down to specific areas, it's been reported to me, we've got to find this out, whether they were able to, in effect, specific areas in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, where you would not have been receiving off of your -- whoever your vendor might have been, Trump versus Clinton, during the waning days of the election, but instead, Clinton is sick, or Clinton is taking money from some source, fake news.
We've also seen, as well, the fact that if you think about -- if you look, for example, you Google "election hacking," during the period leading up to the election and immediately afterwards, you wouldn't get FOX or ABC or "New York Times." What you would get is four out of the first five news stories that popped up were Russian propaganda, RT News, "Sputnik," others.
And again, let's be clear. I'm not here to relitigate the election. But the fact that we have to, I believe, part of our responsibility, as well, is to put the American public on a higher level of alert, that this time it was Russia. It could be other foreign nations, as well. We are in a whole new realm around cyber that provides opportunities, but huge, huge threats for basic democracy. And we're seeing right now.
BURR: And we're on the brink of potentially having two European countries, where Russia is the balance, disrupter of their leadership. And what we might assess is a very covert effort in 2016, in the United States, is a very overt effort, as well as covert, in Germany and France, already been tried in Montenegro and Netherlands. So we feel part of our responsibility is to educate the rest of the world about what's going on, because it's now into character assassination of candidates.
WARNER: And one of the things that we, with I think, as the committee working with the administration, you know, how we really think proactively about what kind of, even, potentially, augmental strategy. We cannot allow this to happen again. This last time, it maybe favored one party. It can favor -- Russia is going to act in its self-interests, not in America's interests. We have to be careful in 2018 and also in 20.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, Senator.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A question for you, Senator Burr. And I ask this with no disrespect, but because it's a question --
BURR: He disrespects me all the time.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Having served as an adviser on the Trump campaign, can you serve hand over your heart, that you can oversee an impartial and serious --
BURR: Absolutely. I'll -- I'll do something that I've never done. I'll admit I voted for him. We always hide who we vote for. That's part of the Democratic process. But I've got a job in the United States Senate. And I take that job extremely seriously. It overrides any personal beliefs that I have or loyalties that I might have. Mark and I might look at politics differently. We don't look at the responsibilities we have on the committee differently, and that's to earn the trust and respect of the intelligence community, so they feel open and good about sharing information with us, because that enables us to do our oversight job that much better.
WARNER: And let me just add, I have confidence in Richard Burr that we together, with the members of our committee are going to get to the bottom of this. And if you get nothing else from today, take that statement to the bank.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you guys been in contact with Michael Flynn or (INAUDIBLE)?