Ex-CIA head: Intel showed contacts between Russians and Trump team

Former CIA head John Brennan saw intelligence showing Trump campaign associates had interactions with Russian officials that left him “concerned” about the possibility of collusion, he told lawmakers in public testimony on Tuesday. 

He insisted that he did not know if there had been any intentional collusion between those campaign associates, whom he declined to name, and emphasized it is possible for an individual to be recruited by Russian intelligence services without his knowledge. 

“But I know that there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether U.S. persons were actively colluding,” Brennan said during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference. 

Brennan was sufficiently concerned to inform the FBI of the intelligence uncovered by the CIA, he told the committee. 

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“We were uncovering intelligence about contacts between U.S. persons and the Russians,” Brennan told lawmakers. “As we came upon that, we would share it with the bureau.”

“By the time I left office on January 20, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf, either in a witting or unwitting fashion,” Brennan said. 

He called the bureau's probe into possible coordination between campaign officials and Russia “well-founded.”

At the same time, Brennan did not say he had evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In response to questioning from Reps. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) and Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Green says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely MORE (R-S.C.), who asked if he could provide evidence of collusion, the former agency head argued that such a standard was beyond the CIA's operational purview. 

“I don’t do evidence, I do intelligence,” Brennan said, declining to answer the question directly. "What we try to do is to make sure that we provide all relevant information to the bureau if there is an investigation underway that they're looking into criminal activity."

He said he did not know what former FBI Director James Comey had told lawmakers behind closed doors about the FBI probe, suggesting a limit to his knowledge of the investigation. Former director of national intelligence James Clapper has made similar arguments. 

Comey headed the federal probe until his dismissal by President Trump earlier this month. 

The demurral did not appear to satisfy Rooney and Gowdy, who are assisting Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) in leading the committee's investigation into Russian interference in the election.

“I appreciate that you don't do evidence, Director Brennan. Unfortunately, that's what I do,” Gowdy said. 

“You and I both know what the word evidence means. We're not getting into whether or not you corroborated, contradicted, examined, cross-examined. We're not getting into how you tested and probed the reliability of that evidence. It's a really simple question.”

In pressing Brennan for evidence, Rooney affirmed that “our charge on this committee isn't so much to try to root out criminal behavior.”

Multiple committee Democrats, including ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOcasio-Cortez: Trump would 'never' say to her face some of the shots he takes at her on Twitter John Ratcliffe back under consideration by Trump for top intel job Trump says he wants 'no help from any country' in 2020 election MORE (D-Calif.), have argued that there is evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, a charge the president has repeatedly denied. 

“I can’t go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now,” Schiff told MSNBC's Chuck Todd in late March. “I don’t want to go into specifics, but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of investigation.”

Brennan was explicit that U.S. persons do not always know that they are interacting with Russian intelligence operatives, or that they are a target in a Russian influence campaign. 

“Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late,” Brennan said.

The former director also revealed a high-level discussion with his Russian counterpart in August, warning him that any interference in the U.S. election would “destroy any near-term prospect” of improved relations between Moscow and Washington.

“I told [FSB head Alexander Bortnikov] that if Russia had such campaign underway, it would be certain to backfire,” Brennan said. “I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in election.

“I believe I was the first U.S. official to brace the Russians on this matter.”

Bortnikov denied that such a campaign was underway but said he would inform Russian President Vladimir Putin of Brennan's comments.