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Former CIA Director John Brennan Testifies Before Congress. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 23, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[10:59:55] REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: So I'm concerned, as we all are, sir, when we see proposed cuts of a third to the State Department, a third to entire budget -- their entire budget and the announcement that we, the United States of America, no longer champion human rights around the world, we are concerned with efforts to undercut our intelligence professionals, comparing them at times to Nazis -- comments by our own leaders.

We can't let Vladimir Putin continue to undermine us by doing exactly what he wants us to do. Generations of intelligence, diplomatic and military professionals have fought for our independence and for the march of democracy around the world, and I don't think, sir -- and neither do the rest of us -- that we can -- we can't let their important work prove to be nothing.

I thank you for your commitment and service to our great nation.

I yield back, Mr. Chairman.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY (R), TEXAS: The gentleman (ph) yields back.

I inadvertently skipped Mr. Rooney for his own five minutes. So, Mr. Rooney, five minutes.

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

Mr. Director, I -- I -- I want to say that I have been up to the agency to review those documents that you had referred to before, and I look forward to talking about the information therein in our closed session.

I also want to mention something that we had talked with Admiral Rogers and Mr. Comey for in our last -- or two open sessions ago, from the intelligence -- House Intelligence Committee. It's one that sort of got a lot of hoopla on TV, with regard to our side of the aisle here trying to make a diversionary tactic when we talk about the importance of what leaks do with our intelligence community.

And I just want to ask you if you agree with Admiral Rogers that, when high-level intelligence community officials -- I -- I think some news reports had almost 20 people leaking classified information to the press -- if you agree with Admiral Rogers that that kind of leaking with our -- with our ability to have to reauthorize things like 702, so we can gather intelligence on bad guys for political purposes -- if you agree that that kind of activity actually hurts our national security.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: 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 -- to stop. Absolutely.

ROONEY: Thank -- thank you.

With regard to more specific questions, with regard to hacking, when did you learn of the Russian hacking in the last election cycle?

BRENNAN: In the...

ROONEY: Roughly?

BRENNAN: ... in the summer.

ROONEY: And did you, at that time, notify the -- both campaigns that you -- or did somebody at the agency -- or are you aware that both campaigns were notified at that time that there was an effort by the Russians to hack and try to influence the -- the political campaign of -- of last year?

BRENNAN: I was aware that both campaigns were being contacted and notified about it, yes.

ROONEY: You said, I -- I believe, to Mr. Gowdy, that you -- you believed that there was information of contact between people in the Trump universe and Moscow. Whether or not that was collusion or not remains to be seen. You said you didn't know if it was actual collusion. I think that your words were, "I don't know."

Can you tell us whether or not, from the information that you've looked at, it looks like the intelligence shows that Moscow is actually rooting for Donald Trump, or were they rooting against Hillary Clinton? And why?

BRENNAN: I -- I think -- my assessment is, it was both. I think that's -- that they -- at different times in the campaign, they felt that the fortunes of one candidate or the other was going up or down, and I think that they, most of the time, believed that Secretary Clinton was going to win the election, and so their efforts to denigrate her were not just to try to diminish her chances of winning, but also to hurt her and -- for her eventual presidency.

But also it's my assessment that they clearly had a more favorable view toward Mr. Trump, and actions they were taking were trying to increase his prospects, even though I think that they probably felt as though they were not all that great.

ROONEY: Why? Why did they -- why did they want her -- why did they want him and not her?

BRENNAN: I think it's a variety of reasons. One is that there was a -- had been a traditional, I think (ph), animus, certainly, between Mr. Putin and Secretary Clinton, as well as that there has not been a good relationship between the Putins and -- between Putin and the Clintons over the years. Felt that Secretary Clinton, with some of her actions while she was secretary of state, led to some of the domestic disturbances inside of Russia. And I think he was more concerned that she was going to be more rigid on certain issues, particularly on human rights and other issues.

ROONEY: But what -- what was Donald Trump going to do for them, then? Or was it just that they didn't like Hillary?

BRENNAN: No, I think they -- they felt that Mr. Trump, being a bit of an outsider -- that they have in the past had -- had some good relations with businessmen who happened to elevate into positions of government authority, and so felt as though, from a negotiating standpoint, that he might be more amenable (ph) to...


ROONEY: So -- so, good relations -- what -- if that's true, one of the questions that I have, and this might be more appropriate for closed session -- but, if that's true, was there, in your -- in your review of the evidence, was there more damaging evidence of Secretary Clinton that was not revealed? And if it wasn't revealed, what does that say about their -- the Russian ability to be actually rooting for her to win?

BRENNAN: Well, yeah, we can talk about it in closed, but, as I said, I think that they anticipated that Secretary Clinton was going to win the election. And so they -- I believe that they tried to damage and bloody her before the election.

But also, I would have anticipated that, had she been elected, that their efforts to denigrate her and hurt her would have continued during her presidency. So if they did collect more information about her that they did not release, I think they were probably husbanding it for a -- another day.

CONAWAY: Gentleman yields back.

Ms. Speier, five minutes.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Director Brennan, for your service.

I'd like to spend some time talking about the outsized role that the Russian oligarchy plays in terms of supporting the Russian government. It's been said that there -- when the Russians want to cultivate a U.S. person, they will do it over a long period of time. Is that your experience?

BRENNAN: I guess (ph) a lot depends on the U.S. person and their willingness to work with the Russians.

SPEIER: Were you aware that they were attempting to cultivate then- real estate developer Donald Trump for almost eight years?

BRENNAN: I'm not going to talk about any individuals.

SPEIER: Are Russian oligarchs encouraged to invest in the United States?

BRENNAN: By whom?

SPEIER: By Putin.

BRENNAN: There are some tremendous investment opportunities here in the United States, and certainly I think that Mr. Putin would like to see more Russian involvement in investment here in the United States, so yes.

SPEIER: And with that Russian investment, is there an expectation that they're going to provide information to President Putin about what's going on in the United States?

BRENNAN: I would fully anticipate that some of the key Russian oligarchs and their business interests are, you know, tapped on a regular basis by Russian intelligence for information, yes.

SPEIER: So were any of the oligarchs investing in U.S. properties owned by then-real estate developer Trump?

BRENNAN: I don't know the answer to that question.

SPEIER: Are you aware that, in 2015 alone, there were 106 visas granted to Russians for investing in the United States in amounts of money of $500,000 or more? They're called EB-5 visas.

BRENNAN: I'm unaware of that.

SPEIER: So, as a general rule within the CIA, you did not investigate those who were granted EB-5 visas?

BRENNAN: It may have come across our screen. We may have intelligence on it. I'm just not personally aware of a lot of the information that the CIA had collected on it (ph).

SPEIER: So, in 2014, the United States, the European Union and Canada imposed sanctions on Russia in response to their invasion of Ukraine and Crimea. These sanctions greatly restricted the flow of private money to the Russian government and business leaders. How much pain do you think those sanctions have caused Russia?

BRENNAN: I think it has been increasingly painful, and I believe that one of Mr. Putin's priorities has been, especially over the last year, to try to get those sanctions reduced. And his strategy is getting European countries to separate from the U.S.-led sanction effort. And that's why I think, as part of this effort, they were trying to drive a wedge between Europe and -- and Washington.

And some of the unfavorable characterizations of Secretary Clinton indicated that she was an unreliable leader and that there were going to be problems for Europe. So I think that's part of a broader Russian strategy. Again, I think that Mr. Putin wants sanctions removed sooner rather than later.

SPEIER: So that's -- you would say that's one of his top, if not very top, policy objectives in dealing with the United States? BRENNAN: It's certainly -- it's a key one, but it's more dealing with us indirectly by trying to wean the European nations off of the -- of the sanctions wagon.

SPEIER: So Igor Rosneft -- Igor Sechin, who was the CEO of Rosneft, and then Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, were doing a deal in Russia that was about $1 billion, I believe. The sanctions that were imposed in 2014 shut that down. Is that correct?

BRENNAN: I believe so. I'm not sure.

SPEIER: So, again, it would make the case that the impacts on Russia are grave in terms of the sanctions.

Let me ask you another question. There have been reports in newspapers that British and Dutch intelligence had provided information about meetings in European cities between Russian officials associated with President Putin and associates of the Trump campaign.

Is that how you first found out about those meetings?

BRENNAN: I am not going to talk about anything that any of our international partners might have shared with us.

SPEIER: All right.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

CONAWAY: Gentlelady yields back.

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, five minutes.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Mr. Brennan, for being here.

Because of your long history with the -- with the agency, I think that you're the perfect expert to give us some historical perspective on how long Russia has been at this active measure campaign. How long would you say that Russia and the Soviet Union sought to undermine the process of our democratic framework here in the West?

BRENNAN: For many, many decades.

ROS-LEHTINEN: For decades. And did Russia attempt to collect intelligence on specific U.S. presidential candidates or target political parties or organizations in the U.S. before 2016, or was it more of a general campaign?

BRENNAN: Well, I would defer to the Bureau, which would have the investigative leads in terms of what might be happening here on U.S. soil. But I know that, again, the Russians try to cultivate relationships with -- with individuals. But, again, I would defer to the Bureau.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you. Can you provide any examples of past Russian or Soviet active measures, as they're called?

BRENNAN: Well, it runs the gamut from targeted assassinations of dissidents, of members of the media, of the -- inside of Russia, as well as outside of Russia -- to getting people on their payroll in foreign governments to carry out their -- their actions, to the -- their efforts in Ukraine, as not just the military takeover of Crimea, but their basic intervention into eastern Ukraine with their intelligence and paramilitary services, to the active propagation of propaganda and disinformation as they try to besmirch and tarnish individuals, as well as the use of blackmail, Kompromat, that they would be able to then leverage for their own purposes.

So it -- it really does run the gamut from the -- the most heinous and -- and violent to that which is much more subtle and insidious.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Yes, the scope is -- is alarming. How does the Kremlin's attempt to influence this -- this previous election compare to Soviet active measures during the Cold War? What has changed in their stagecraft (ph)?

BRENNAN: Well I think, when we talk about U.S. presidential elections -- and we know that the Russians were trying to influence outcomes as well as perceptions of -- back to the 1960s, I believe. But, again, the -- this cyber environment, now, really provides so much more opportunity for a variety of troublemaking, and the Russians take advantage of it.

So the ability to go in and to collect and to use different types of techniques -- spear phishing, whatever else -- so that they can then gain access to people's e-mails, computer systems and networks -- it is something that the Russians are quite adept at.

And what we've seen recently is the collaboration between Russian intelligence services and organized criminals. I think it was in March that the Department of Justice indicted four individuals -- two members of the FSB and two well-known organized criminals, hackers -- because of the -- the pillaging of the Yahoo servers.

And that collaboration between Russian intelligence and Russian organized crime, I think, is more and more of a concern so that they can promote their respective interests. So this is something that I think the Russians are looking for new opportunities to partner with whomever they can in order to do what they want to do.

ROS-LEHTINEN: And as a young analyst, you probably had a lot of dealings with Andropov, the head of the KGB, in the early 80's, and he was very focused on -- on this active measure campaign.

BRENNAN: Well yes, I -- as a young analyst, I wouldn't have had direct interaction with Andropov, but I have studied Russian intelligence activities over the years, and have seen it -- again, manifest in many different of our counterintelligence cases, and -- and how they have been able to get people, including inside of CIA, to become treasonous.

And frequently, individuals who go along that treasonous path do not even realize they're along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.

And that's why, again, my -- my radar goes up early when I see certain things that -- I know what the Russians are trying to do, and I don't know whether or not the targets of their efforts are as mindful of the Russian intentions as they need to be.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you for your service.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CONAWAY: Gentlelady yields back. Mr. Quigley, five minutes.

QUIGLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Director, for your service.

Sir, you said you became aware of U.S. persons' interactions with the Russians, and you've mentioned your radar going up. Is part of that who the Russians were, that were meeting?

BRENNAN: I'm sorry?

QUIGLEY: Was part of your concern not just the fact that there were interactions, but who the particular Russians were?

BRENNAN: Yes. It was on both sides, yeah, the -- not just the -- the nature of the contacts and the communicants, or the (inaudible).

QUIGLEY: Yeah, and it's not just the fact that they met?


QUIGLEY: You said -- and I want to make sure I had your words correctly -- you knew that meant there was a basis to pull these threads. Can you elaborate on what that means generally?

BRENNAN: Well, frequently, and even totally divorced from the presidential election issue, if there are Russian -- known or suspected Russian intelligence officers who seem to be cultivating contacts with U.S. persons, and there are reasons for CIA or others to be concerned about what's happening there, we would make sure that the Bureau is aware of it.

We wouldn't know what those follow-up investigative steps were, taken by the Bureau, because of appropriate privacy rights and civil liberties of U.S. persons. But the Bureau has the primary responsibility on U.S. soil to follow its counterintelligence leads wherever they may go.

CIA has very unique counterintelligence authorities as well, and we have a unique collection of authorities that make us the -- I think, the closest partner with the Bureau in this matter, because we have the intelligence liaison relationships with our foreign service -- sister services.

We have covert action responsibilities, we have clandestine collection responsibilities and authorities, we have all sorts of analytic capabilities -- the best analysts in the U.S. government, bar none.

And so that combination of talent and capabilities is able to give the Bureau what they need. And that's why any type of suspicion that we have that something may be afoot here, that the Russians are trying to get -- and it's not just the Russians, it's other foreign service as well.

We make sure the bureau is fully apprised of that. And that's why we have FBI agents who are serving inside of CIA's counterintelligence elements.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

Switching topics here, Ms. Speier mentioned the sanctions and they -- how they're impacting the Russians. You talked about how the Russians are attempting to get -- avoid these sanctions, or getting aid from others. But they also use money laundering, correct?

BRENNAN: Yes, they do.

QUIGLEY: And can you elaborate just how extensive that is, and where they're doing it, primarily?

BRENNAN: I would -- I would defer to some of the experts in CIA, as well as Department of Treasury and others. But money laundering is a long-practiced effort on the part of Russian businesses, Russian government officials and others, as well as Russian intelligence services, in order to cover their tracks and be able to carry out their illegal, illicit, and even immoral activities.

QUIGLEY: Avoid taxes, sanctions?

BRENNAN: I'm sorry?

QUIGLEY: Avoiding taxes, sanctions?

BRENNAN: Avoiding any number of problems for them -- and they've become very adept over the years at money laundering.

QUIGLEY: Are you familiar with which particular country or countries that they're principally involved with money laundering?

BRENNAN: I'm aware of some, but, again, I would defer to the agency at this time to identify the priority ones.

QUIGLEY: Cyprus?

BRENNAN: They -- they use banking institutions in a number of countries. A lot of times what they're doing with some of the financial elements in countries is unbeknownst to the governments. And so there are a number of financial centers around the world that the Russians have become quite active in. QUIGLEY: And I agree that the -- the home country may not be aware, and probably isn't aware of all that's taking place. But you would certainly be aware and concerned if there were U.S. persons involved with those financial institutions, correct?

BRENNAN: Anything that we might uncover related to that, we would make sure that the Bureau, Department of Treasury and others are aware of it. They're the ones that need to follow up in terms of whether or not there's any criminal activity.

QUIGLEY: And were there areas concerned, in Cyprus, involving this with U.S. persons and financial institutions there?

BRENNAN: Well, I think it's a well-known fact that there is a large Russian presence -- a large business interest, a large financial interest, a part of Russia -- in Cyprus. And so, again, any type of involvement of U.S. persons or companies, it would be the responsibility of the FBI and other U.S. agencies, not CIA, to follow up on that.

QUIGLEY: Finally, if a U.S. president asked any intel official not to pursue an investigation, would you construe that as obstruction?

BRENNAN: I do not have the -- a legal basis to determine what constitutes obstruction of justice.

QUIGLEY: Well, how would you react if a president asked you not to pursue an investigation?

BRENNAN: I have never been asked that, and if I was, I certainly would not -- I would not follow such a directive.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

I yield back.

CONAWAY: Gentleman yields back.

Mr. Turner, five minutes.

TURNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Brennan, turning back to the exchange that you had with Mr. Gowdy, you stated -- and, by the way, I want to also thank you, as others have, for the specificity that you provide to us.

These are difficult issues and concepts, different standards, intelligence assessments, evidence -- we've got the FBI, the CIA, each of you do different jobs. And your expertise is certainly helpful to us, to unwind, as we're dealing with elements of this, what -- what we're looking at and what this means as we try to move forward with an investigation.

So you indicated that you saw -- when asked about whether or not you'd seen evidence of collusion or collaboration, you said that you saw intelligence that indicated that there had been contacts with individuals -- with -- with Russians -- that were of a nature that bore investigation.

You said that those contacts might have been benign, might not have been. But they rose to the level of indicating that they need to be reviewed for their nature, and looking into an investigation.

Did I characterize that correctly?

BRENNAN: Yes, but I don't want to take this out of context. You know, we see contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons all the time.

It is when it's in the context that there is something else going on -- and so we knew, at the time, that the Russians were involved in this effort to try to interfere in our election.

So with that backdrop, and increasing indications that they were involved in that, seeing these types of contacts and interactions during the same period of time raised my -- my concern.

TURNER: Excellent. I appreciate that -- that qualification. But if someone left this hearing today and said that you had indicated that those contacts were evidence of collusion or collaboration, they would be misrepresenting your statements, correct?

BRENNAN: They would have misheard my response to the very good questions that were asked of me. I'm trying to be as clear as possible in terms of what I know, what I assess, and what I can say.

TURNER: So you would say that's a misrepresentation of your statement, yes?

BRENNAN: I would say that it was not an accurate portrayal of my statement.

TURNER: Excellent (ph).

BRENNAN: Absolutely, it was inconsistent with my remarks.

TURNER: So (ph) let me go to the next step. If someone saw what you saw, and only what you saw, with respect to those contacts -- if they looked at the intelligence that you saw, where you said it might have been benign, might not have been benign, and then they characterize what they saw has been -- as having been evidence of collusion or collaboration, they'd be misrepresenting the intelligence, would they not?

BRENNAN: I don't know what else they have seen that could corroborate...


TURNER: Only what you saw. They would be misrepresenting the intelligence, correct?

BRENNAN: I -- I presume they would be misrepresenting what it is that I saw. Again, I don't know... TURNER: Thank you. I appreciate that, because I do believe that there are members of this committee that deserve that counsel, because your specificity gives us an understanding of what we're reviewing.

And I do believe that there are those who reviewed some of the information that you have -- have seen and represent it to the public absolutely incorrectly, and misrepresent it.

And I'd like to yield the remainder my time to Mr. Gowdy.

GOWDY: Sorry. I was colluding with my friend from Florida.

And I want to pick up where -- well, I want to do this. The last time you and I talked, you had referred information to the Bureau, am I right? You -- what you had seen, you referred to the Bureau?

BRENNAN: OK. I don't know if that (ph) was the last thing that we talked about, but I'll grant you that we...

GOWDY: One of them.

BRENNAN: ... talked (ph) about that, yes.

GOWDY: One of the last.


GOWDY: It wasn't a trick question. One of the last things -- you referred to the Bureau what you saw. Is that fair?


GOWDY: Did you also refer to Director Clapper?

BRENNAN: Not everything that was shared with the Bureau was shared with Director Clapper.

GOWDY: And why would that be?

BRENNAN: Because, on counterintelligence matters dealing with U.S. person information of a very sensitive nature, the Office of the DNI and the DNI does not have that type of operational responsibility. And what we try to do is to make sure that there is as little exposure of that information as possible.

I would keep General Clapper informed about the nature of my engagements, but the materials that were shared with the Bureau would not have been shared with the -- the DNI.

GOWDY: Do you know if the Bureau opened a (ph) matter? Well, first of all, when was that? With as much specificity as you can give us, when did you refer that information to the Bureau?

BRENNAN: Would you accept last year as the answer? It was during the summertime, and the...


BRENNAN: ... but even previously, there are ongoing -- ongoing sharing of information with the -- the Bureau, and so it was over the course of the -- of the year.

GOWDY: All right. In conclusion, because I'm out of time, sometime in the summer, you shared the information with Director Comey at the Bureau?

BRENNAN: Sometime this summer, there was information that the CIA had that was shared with the Bureau. But it wasn't the only period of time where such information was shared with the Bureau.

GOWDY: Good enough. Thanks.

CONAWAY: The gentleman yields back (ph).

Mr. Swalwell, five minutes.

SWALWELL: Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Director.

Since you passed that information to the FBI director, have you reviewed the FBI's development of that evidence or any other evidence?

BRENNAN: I am unaware of what the Bureau has done with that information, and I have no knowledge of anything, even, that the Agency has done since January 20th.

SWALWELL: Are you aware of what the Bureau has briefed this committee, with respect to evidence of collusion?

BRENNAN: I watched Jim Comey's hearing and his comments, and I've gone through his transcript, so I'm aware of it, yes.

SWALWELL: Are you aware of what the FBI has briefed this committee in a classified setting, with respect to evidence of collusion?

BRENNAN: No, I'm not. I'm totally not.

SWALWELL: Director, May 10th of this year produced an unsettling image inside the Oval Office. President Trump, standing and laughing with Russia's Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Lavrov.

It's been further reported that President Trump shared highly sensitive codeword information with Russia, putting at risk U.S. lives and jeopardizing sources and methods. Director, are the Russians worthy of receiving such information in the manner alleged?

BRENNAN: I believe it's important for U.S. intelligence to provide to any of our foreign partners any information related to terrorist threats to foreign countries or their citizens. And that's why I authorized the provision of classified information numerous times to the Russians that I believe saved Russian lives. As I mentioned, there is an appropriate manner and procedure for doing that. They need to be followed scrupulously so that there's not going to be a undermining of those collection capabilities and systems.

SWALWELL: Director, you warned Bortnikov that there would be consequences if they meddled in our elections. When you look at that picture and the manner in which, allegedly, classified information was conveyed to the Russians, do you see consequences for their actions?

BRENNAN: Again, I don't know the totality of the actions that have been taken against the Russians. I know that, again, the Obama administration, in January, took actions against them.

So I -- I believe that, depending on how this investigation proceeds, by the -- by the FBI and the special counsel, as well as by the work of the committees -- and I agree that the appointment of a special counsel should not, in any way, stop these committees -- intelligence committees in the Senate and the House -- from doing its work, because you're supposed to be looking at what are -- what do we need to do to strengthen our system so that we're better prepared to -- so I believe that consequences need to be levied on the Russians for it, but I would defer to policy makers in Congress to decide that.

SWALWELL: Director, with respect to the contacts between Russia and Trump campaign persons that you referenced earlier, and whether they were innocent or benign contacts, when you see a multiplicity of contacts between one country and one campaign, when does it -- in your mind, when you're deciding whether to refer it to the FBI -- when does it move from mere coincidences to a pattern? And in this case, when did it?

BRENNAN: I guess -- it's all sort of very sui generis, as far as the instances are concerned. But as I said, there was a backdrop there of known Russian efforts to interfere in our election.


And there were a variety of activities taking place that --