Daniel R. Coats, director of national intelligence, and Marine
Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, May 23, 2017.
“I don’t feel it’s appropriate to characterize conversations with the president,” Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coates told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
Coates was called before the committee to discuss worldwide threats, but the first question – from Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — dealt with the latest leak to the Washington Post intended to undermine the Trump presidency.
Video courtesy Department of Defense
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|5 takeaways from intel leaders’ Trump testimony|
Current and former U.S. intelligence leaders made it clear on Tuesday that they have little interest in helping President Donald Trump escape the scandal surrounding his campaigns ties to Russia.During three congressional hearings, the leaders lent new weight to questions about whether Trumps campaign aides colluded with Russian officials to influence the presidential election providing yet another setback as the White House seeks a reset during Trumps foreign trip.
Former CIA Director John Brennan said U.S. intelligence agencies had picked up contacts between Russia and people involved in Trump’s campaign, and left open the possibility that Russian officials may have been successful in recruiting some of the aides.
Across Capitol Hill, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats declined to comment on a Washington Post report that Trump had asked him to deny evidence of Russia collusion, though Coats left the door open to answering such questions in the future. And National Security Agency chief Adm. Mike Rogers did nothing to douse the Post’s allegation that Trump had made a similar request to him as lawmakers failed to ask him a single question about the issue.
Here are POLITICOs takeaways from Tuesdays hearings:
Brennan adds to Trumps troubles
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee asked Brennan repeatedly whether he had seen evidence of collusion between Trump aides and Moscow seemingly hoping that Brennan, like former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper before him, would say he had not seen direct evidence.
But Brennan took a different tack, saying he had seen contacts between Russia and “U.S. persons” that concerned him, and that these contacts had been passed to the FBI for investigation. This was the most direct acknowledgment yet by a current or former U.S. official that investigators believe Russia sought to recruit Americans to help affect the 2016 election.
“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 told lawmakers. “And it raised questions in my mind again whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”
Republicans get backup on leaks
The Brennan hearing wasnt all bad news for Trump. The former CIA chief took a hardline stance on government officials who have leaked classified information to the news media, saying the leakers need to be tracked down.
“These continue to be very, very damaging leaks, and I find them appalling, Brennan said.
During a House Intelligence Committee hearing in March, Republicans took heat for focusing on leaks rather thanon Russias election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Republicans appeared cognizant of this criticism on Tuesday, with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) saying he wanted to save his leak questions until the end of the hearing.
After the hearing, the White House issued a statement touting Brennans remarks on leaks.
Even Obama’s CIA director believes the leaks of classified information are ‘appalling’ and the culprits must be ‘tracked down,'” said a White House spokesperson.
Coats willing to talk, just to a different panel
The first question Tuesday at the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearing with Coats was about the Posts report the night
I don’t feel its appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president, Coats responded.
But asked later if hed be willing to divulge such talks with the Senate Intelligence Committee which is spearheading the probe into Russias election-year meddling and possible ties to Trumps team the nations top spy changed his tune.
The former Indiana Republican senator said he had no documents to make relevant to the intelligence panels or to Robert Mueller, the former FBI director whom the Justice Department tapped as the special counsel overseeing its Russia investigation.
Senate Democrats look to keep intelligence controversies alive
Armed Services Democrats repeatedly tried to draw Coats into criticizing Trumps decision to share classified intelligence possibly from Israel with senior Russian officials in the Oval Office earlier this month.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and other lawmakers asked
I’ve not seen anything that would lead to that conclusion, Coats replied.
Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart backed up the claim at the same hearing. That brought a rebuke from Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.): Theyre very worried, general.
Democrats also latched onto another evasive answer from Coats as evidence that the spy chief was aware of pressure from the president on the intelligence community to disavow the government’s Russia investigation.
While Coats wouldn’t comment broadly on the allegations that Trump tried to stifle the FBIs investigation, the intelligence leader also wouldn’t actively deny that he had discussed the issue with Rogers.
Panel Democrats took the response as a de facto yes, though McCain skewered that interpretation.
Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also pried out of Coats that the intelligence community has not begun what is often called a bomb damage assessment of the ramifications of Trump sharing the secret information with the Russians.
Rogers gets off easy
Comparatively, lawmakers treated Rogers with kid gloves during his testimony before a House Armed Services subcommittee.
None of the panel members asked about Trumps reported requests during the 75-minute session, which dealt with the military’s U.S. Cyber Command budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year. Rogers offered no comments about the accuracy of the Posts story during his opening statement or in any of his answers.
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But Fox News picked up the story and ran an article about it online, and conservative host
The network released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that the May 16 story was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.
Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed, the statement said. We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted.
The family would like to thank Fox News for their retraction on a story that has caused pain and anguish to the family and has done harm to Seth Richs legacy, the family said. We are hopeful that in the future that Fox News will work with the family to ensure the highest degree of professionality and scrutiny is followed so that only accurate facts are reported surrounding this case.
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WASHINGTON—Former CIA director John Brennan testified Tuesday that contacts by Donald Trump campaign associates with Russian officials last year raised concerns that the Kremlin could try to cultivate people close to Mr. Trump, shedding light on why federal agents began a full investigation.
Mr. Brennan also disclosed that the intelligence community’s alarm about Russia “brazenly” interfering in the 2016 presidential election prompted him to warn his Russian intelligence counterpart last summer to stop meddling in U.S. politics.
In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Brennan explained the basis for the Federal Bureau of Investigation counterintelligence investigation that was opened after the election, which is looking at potential collusion between the campaign and Russia.
“I encountered and I’m aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign,” said Mr. Brennan, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency under former President Barack Obama.
Mr. Brennan said he didn’t know if these contacts by people tied to the campaign amounted to “collusion” with Russian officials, but said that a common Russian intelligence technique involved cultivating Americans as either witting or unwitting intelligence assets.
Mr. Brennan said he was concerned because of “known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals.”
He said that the contacts picked up by U.S. intelligence justified the opening of an FBI investigation that has overshadowed Mr. Trump’s presidency.
“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,” said Mr. Brennan.
Mr. Brennan declined to discuss the specific information that his assessments were based on in the open hearing, saying that much of the information was classified. The House Intelligence Committee subsequently continued the hearing with Mr. Brennan in a classified, closed-door setting.
Mr. Trump has denied that he or his campaign coordinated with any foreign entity, and Russia has denied meddling in the election. Mr. Trump has said continuing questions about his campaign’s Russia contacts amount to a “witch hunt.”
The FBI investigation is now being overseen by a special counsel, Robert Mueller, after Mr. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey raised questions about whether the president was trying to quash the probe into whether his associates had contacts with Russians.
Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to end an investigation into his former national security adviser, Mike Flynn, according to people close to Mr. Comey. Mr. Trump has denied he made the request.
In a separate hearing Tuesday morning, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats declined to confirm or deny that Mr. Trump had asked him to publicly state there was no collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government in response to a Washington Post report.
The Post reported that the president asked Mr. Coats and the National Security Agency director, Adm. Mike Rogers, to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion between the campaign and Russia.
Mr. Coats said it wasn’t appropriate to comment about the topic in his public testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We discuss a number of topics on a very regular basis,” Mr. Coats said. “On this topic, as well as other topics, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to characterize discussions, conversations with the president.”
Mr. Coats was asked if he had discussed with Adm. Rogers any request from Mr. Trump regarding collusion. Mr. Coats responded: “That is something that I would like to withhold, that question, at this particular point in time.”
Mr. Coats was also asked if he knew of any efforts by the White House to interfere in other aspects of the Russia inquiry, including allegations the president asked Mr. Comey to ease off investigating Mr. Flynn. “I am not aware of that,” Mr. Coats said.
Mr. Brennan, the former CIA chief, said in his testimony that the intelligence community determined by last August that there was a “very aggressive” effort by Russia to intervene in the 2016 election.
Mr. Brennan described a previously undisclosed warning he made to his counterpart in Russian intelligence, Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Russian FSB service, not to interfere in the U.S. election in an August phone call. According to Mr. Brennan’s account, Mr. Bortnikov denied any attempt to intervene and said Moscow is routinely and falsely blamed for such efforts by the U.S. government.
Special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s office is now operating from an office in Washington, beginning its work of probing the impact of Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election, Justice Department officials said Tuesday.
“The special counsel’s office is up and running now,” Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus told reporters at an annual briefing on the Justice Department’s budget. “What its total staff size is going to be is something that I’m not aware of. I just don’t know yet and that’s in the hands of the special counsel, not here.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman said earlier Tuesday that Mueller and his team are working out of a privately-owned office building in downtown Washington. The building also houses offices for other Justice Department units.
Mueller has 60 days to propose a budget for this fiscal year and a deadline at the beginning of July to propose a budget for the next fiscal year, according to the regulations used to create his position.
“The office of Special Counsel budget is not something that’s part of the FY18 budget,” Lofthus said in response to questions from POLITICO. “It’s something that obviously needs to be done now because the special counsel is being stood up now.”
Lofthus said the special counsel will be funded via a “permanent and indefinite appropriation” at the Treasury Department that is separate from other Justice Department accounts.
“There’s an appropriation and we’re going to make sure the special counsel is funded and it’s out of that appropriation,” Lofthus said. “We work with them on their expected estimates. … That’s all underway.”
The man who appointed Mueller to the post last week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, opened the budget briefing with a statement, but declined to take questions from reporters. He said he had to go to another meeting.
At the outset of the session, Rosenstein joked about how he’s suddenly found himself in the spotlight after more than two decades at the Justice Department.
With everyone present seemed well aware of his role, he identified himself as the deputy attorney general, before quipping: “It’s a low-profile middle management job.”
Former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan said Tuesday that Russia “brazenly” interfered in the 2016 presidential election despite a direct warning to a top Kremlin official in August 2016 to stay out of U.S. politics.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats gave a non-answer when directly asked by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) if the Washington Post reporting that President Trump asked Coats to publicly say there was no collusion with the Russians was true.