Former CIA head warned Russian counterpart against election interference

Former CIA head warned Russian counterpart against election interference
© Greg Nash

The former head of the CIA, John Brennan, personally warned his Russian counterpart against interfering in the U.S. election, Brennan told lawmakers Tuesday.

The previously undisclosed discussion with FSB head Alexander Bortnikov took place Aug. 4, Brennan said.

He told Bortnikov that “American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in the election” and that such an attempt would “destroy any near-term prospect” of improved relations between Moscow and Washington.

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“I believe I was the first U.S. official to brace Russia on this matter,” Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee during a public appearance in that panel’s probe into Russian interference in the election.

Bortnikov twice denied that Russia was attempting to meddle in the U.S. election, but said that he would raise the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brennan added.

Brennan was at the helm of the CIA when the agency, together with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI, assessed that the Kremlin was attempting to swing the outcome of the U.S. election.

He was so alarmed by the intelligence he saw to that effect, he said Tuesday, that he went to Capitol Hill to brief senior congressional leaders.

Committee Republicans pressed Brennan on whether the intelligence he saw included any evidence of collusion between President Trump’s campaign and the Russians.

Brennan quibbled with the use of the word “evidence,” arguing that it was beyond the purview of the CIA to gather intelligence on the matter.

But he told lawmakers that he had seen intelligence showing that individuals involved in the Trump campaign had interactions with Russian officials that “concerned” him because of known Russian efforts to manipulate U.S. individuals into doing Moscow's bidding, either “wittingly or unwittingly.”

Brennan insisted that he did not know if there had been any intentional collusion between those campaign associates, whom he declined to name.

“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,” he said.