Live coverage: FBI director testifies to Senate Intelligence Committee

FBI Director Christopher Wray will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday amid growing conflicts between the White House, congressional Republicans and the nation’s top law enforcement agencies.

Wray’s testimony comes days after the White House said it would not release a memo authored by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, which was meant as a rebuttal to a GOP document that President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE declassified over the objections of the FBI.

Republican lawmakers are expected to pepper Wray with questions about the allegations in the Republican memo: that the FBI shielded from a surveillance court the Democratic origins of an opposition research dossier that was used to secure a warrant to spy on a member of Trump’s campaign.


Wray is also likely to be quizzed on allegations of political bias among senior agents involved in the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMore than 200,000 Wisconsin voters will be removed from the rolls Trump is threatening to boycott the debates — here's how to make sure he shows up Trey Gowdy returns to Fox News as contributor MORE's handling of classified material.

Burr opens hearing by reflecting on range of threats to U.S. 

9:40 a.m. 

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE (R-N.C.) opened the hearing by laying out the range of prevalent threats that pose a risk to U.S. national security.

He introduced the top intelligence officials attending the hearing who will talk about the threats across “multiple domains,” including Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE, CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoKobach has lead in Kansas Senate race unless Pompeo enters: report The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial MORE and National Security Agency Director Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersHouse passes defense bill to establish Space Force, paid family leave for federal workers Hillicon Valley: FCC moves against Huawei, ZTE | Dem groups ask Google to reconsider ads policy | Bill introduced to increase data access during probes House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues MORE, among others.

He said their testimony will continue a tradition that aims to create an opportunity for the public to learn about such wide ranging threats.

Burr noted that the committee will meet with the witnesses in a classified session at 2:30 p.m. and instructed members to hold any questions that could get into classified matters until the afternoon meeting.

Warner: Partisan attacks on FBI a 'dangerous trend

9:50 a.m. 

Committee Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (D-Va.) said during opening remarks that recent GOP attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department represent a “dangerous trend.” 

“Other threats to our institutions come from right here at home. There have been some, aided and abetted by Russian internet bots and trolls, who have attacked the integrity of the FBI and the Department of Justice,” Warner said.

“This is a dangerous trend. This campaign of innuendo and misinformation should alarm all of us, regardless of our partisan affiliation.”

Warner also used his opening statement to accuse Trump of “inconveniently” denying the threat posed by Russia to future elections, in the wake of Moscow’s interference against the 2016 vote. He said “certain questions remain” with regard to Russian interference in the election, but described it as a “coordinated attack” against U.S. democracy. 

Warner indicated he does not believe the U.S. is adequately prepared to defend against threats to future votes.

“I believe in many ways we are no better prepared than we were in 2016,” Warner said.

Coats warns of Russian interference in future elections

9:57 a.m. 

Coats warned the panel that Russia is “likely to pursue even more aggressive cyberattacks” in future elections aimed at “degrading our democratic values and weakening our alliances."

Coats offered a grave warning to lawmakers, saying the Russians would be looking to “use elections as opportunities to undermine democracy, sow discord and undermine our values.”

Coats warns of increasing North Korea threat

10:00 a.m. 

Coats warned that North Korea will continue to pose a major threat to the United States and its interests, particularly as it continues to pursue its development program of weapons of mass destruction.

“Pyongyang has repeatedly stated that it does not intend to negotiate its nuclear weapons and missiles away because the regime views nuclear weapons are critical to its security,” the national intelligence chief said during the hearing.

He said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un views the development of a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as the key to achieving his long-term goal of dominating the Korean Peninsula.

“In the wake of its ICBM tests last year, we expect to see North Korea to press ahead with additional missile tests this year and its foreign minister has threatened an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific," he said.

Coats: Russia sees 2018 as a target

10:05 a.m. 

Coats later noted that Russia views its influence efforts against the 2016 election as successful, and warned that the 2018 midterms could become a target for Moscow. 

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceived its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Coats said. 

Warner gets officials on the record on Russian interference intel assessment

10:25 a.m.

Warner went down the line and asked each official to reconfirm that they believe the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and Pompeo’s assessment that there has been no decrease in Russian interference since.

Each of them — Coats, Rogers, Pompeo, Wray, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo — agreed on both counts.

Risch says committee has ‘absolute 100 percent confidence’ in FBI, intel community

10:38 a.m.

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) made a point of agreeing with Warner in asserting the committee’s “complete confidence” in the officials before the committee. 

“This committee will always have your backs,” Risch said. “We have absolute, 100 percent confidence in your ability to in a very neutral, dispassionate fashion deliver to us the facts that we need to make policy decisions.” 

Singling out Wray, he went on to note that sometimes the officials’ jobs intersect with political affairs — which Risch said can get “messy.” 

“One of the things that does rear its ugly head occasionally and causes issues — and it winds up in the media a lot more than it should — is when your jobs intersect with domestic political affairs,” Risch said.

“Mr. Wray, you probably wind up with this more than anybody else,” Risch said. “It gets messy, it gets difficult, and I think we’ve all got to recommit ourselves to what we are actually doing here to reach the right facts.”

Risch warns against being charmed by North Korean 'smile campaign'

10:43 a.m. 

Risch warned against being charmed by what he described as a “smile campaign” by the North Koreans at this month's Winter Olympics. Risch said that some “appear to be captivated” by the diplomatic push by North Koreans, but that it is “nothing more than a stall” tactic to allow them to “further develop what they’re trying to do” 

Kim's sister, Kim Jo Yong, received several glowing profiles from the American press during her appearance at the games, but Pompeo noted she is still the head of the nation’s “Propaganda and Agitation Department.” 

“There is no indication there is any change by Kim Jong Un in his desire to retain his nuclear capacity,” Pompeo said.

FBI chief provides details on Porter background check timeline

10:50 a.m. 

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Trump administration approves Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina MORE (D-Ore.) probed Wray about the details surrounding the controversial senior West Wing staffer who resigned last week following allegations that he domestically abused his two ex-wives.

Wyden questioned the FBI chief on when the FBI provided to the White House information on former staff secretary Rob Porter.

While Wray said he cannot provide what content they included in the background report, he did share the timeline of when the bureau provided information to the White House.

"I can’t get into the content of what was briefed. What I can tell you is the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July," Wray said.

"Soon thereafter we received request for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November and then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month, we received additional information and we passed that on as well," he added.

Wray said he is "confident" the bureau followed the decades-long set of standards for conducting such a background briefing on a White House staffer.

“There is a limit to what I can say about any particular background investigation. The background investigation process involves a fairly elaborate set of guidelines, protocols, agreements, et cetera, that have been in place for 20-plus years. And I am quite confident in this particular instance that the FBI followed the established protocols.”

Pompeo calls New York Times report on secret operation to get back NSA files 'atrocious' and 'inaccurate'

10:55 a.m. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump MORE (R-Maine) asked Pompeo whether reports that U.S. intelligence officials engaged in a top-secret effort over the past year to secure the return of stolen NSA hacking tools from Russian operatives were accurate.

The New York Times and the Intercept published reports on the alleged operation late last week. According to the Times, U.S. officials turned over $100,000 to intermediaries in the botched operation. 

Pompeo called the reports “atrocious” and wholly inaccurate. 

“Reporting on this matter has been atrocious, its been ridiculous, totally inaccurate. In our view, the suggestion the CIA was swindled is false. The people who were swindled were James Risen and Matt Rosenberg,” Pompeo said, referring to the writers of the reports.

“Indeed it’s our view that the same two people who were proffering phony information to the United States government proffered that phony information to those same two reporters,” Pompeo continued. “The Central Intelligence Agency did not provide any resources — no money — to these two individuals who proffered U.S. government information, directly or indirectly, at any time.”

Wray defends FBI’s integrity against allegations of political bias

11:00 a.m. 

Collins asked Wray to address allegations of political bias from Republicans who say that FBI agents mishandled separate investigations into Clinton and Trump.

Wray offered a fierce defense of the bureau and said that there are more than two ongoing investigations at the FBI. 

“It is the finest group of professionals and public servants I could hope to work for,” Wray said. “Many times a day I’m confronted with unbelievable examples of integrity and professionalism and grit. There are 37,000 people in the FBI who do unbelievable things around the world, and you’d never know it from watching the news, but we actually have more than two investigations and most of them do a lot to keep Americans safe.”

Wray casts doubt on Nunes memo

11:04 a.m. 

Wray said the FBI was concerned with the “accuracy” of the GOP memo authored by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesDemocrats launch bilingual ad campaign off drug pricing bill Koch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill Hillicon Valley: Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling | Tech legal shield makes it into trade deal | Impeachment controversy over phone records heats up | TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings MORE (R-Calif.) because of “omissions.”

“We provided thousands of documents that were very sensitive and lots of briefings and it’s very hard for anybody to distill all of that into 3 1/2 pages,” Wray said.

Pompeo warns about continued Russia efforts to meddle in U.S. elections

11:05 a.m. 

Pompeo joined other intelligence officials in stating that the CIA has observed Russian efforts to interfere in this year's midterm elections.

"We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here," Pompeo told Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics This week: House to vote on Turkey sanctions bill MORE (D-N.M.).

Coats, who had previously noted a continued effort to subvert U.S. elections earlier in the hearing, reaffirmed this point of view along with Rogers.

Head of national intelligence says security clearance process needs to be reformed

11:10 a.m.

Coats also said the security clearance process is "broken" and needs to be "reformed" after scrutiny about Porter's yearlong service at the White House also cast a bright spotlight on other top Trump administration aides who have not yet received a final security clearance as a result of issues raised with their background checks.

“I might just say that, I think sometimes it is necessary to have some type of preliminary clearance in order to fill a spot. But I have publicly stated if that is the case, the access has to be limited in terms of the kind of information they can be in a position to receive or not receive. So I think that is something that we have to do as a part of our security clearance review," Coats told Heinrich. 

"The process is broken. It needs to be reformed," he added.

Coats told Heinrich, when he asked about specific cases like Trump's son-in-law, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump hosts pastor who says 'Jews are going to hell' at White House Hanukkah party Mark Levin calls Trump 'first Jewish president' Kushner pens NY Times piece defending Trump order combating anti-Semitism MORE, that he would prefer to provide further details in their classified session later on in the day.

Lawmakers from both parties have been critical of the security clearance process in recent years, particularly with regards to the significant backlog of unfinished cases. 

Wray won’t say if FBI still believes dossier is 'salacious and unverified'

11:32 a.m.

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Lawsuits pose new challenge for TikTok TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week MORE (R-Ark.) asked Wray if former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by UANI — Judiciary Democrats approve articles of impeachment setting up House vote next week Huckabee teases Hannity appearance, says he'll explain why Trump is eligible for third term Five takeaways on Horowitz's testimony on Capitol Hill MORE’s characterization of the dossier as “salacious and unverified” is still the agency’s official position on the matter. 

Wray declined to answer in a public setting, telling lawmakers “there’s more we can talk about it this afternoon” in a closed session.

Cotton quizzes Wray on Steele’s ties to Russian oligarch 

11:33 a.m. 

Cotton asked Wray whether former British intelligence official Christopher Steele was working for a Russian oligarch named Oleg Derpaska when he compiled the opposition research dossier on Trump.

Wray said he could not answer in public but would brief lawmakers in private.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Horowitz did not find evidence Obama asked for probe of Trump MORE (R-Iowa) has sent a letter to Derpaska’s lawyers asking for information on his relationship with Steele.

Pompeo: Intel community engaged in ‘significant effort’ against Russian threat

11:55 a.m.

Pompeo said that the intelligence community is engaged in a “significant effort” to counter Russian and other foreign influence operations against the United States. 

“We have a significant effort. I am happy to talk about it in closed session,” Pompeo said in response to questioning from Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedGabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members MORE (D-R.I.).

“It is not just our effort, it is a certainly all of IC effort — there may be others participating as well — to do our best to push back against this threat,” Pompeo said. “It’s not just the Russian threat, it’s Iranians, Chinese — it’s a big, broad effort.” 

Reed pressed Wray, Coats, Pompeo and Rogers on whether they had received specific direction from President Trump to blunt future Russian interference efforts. The officials indicated they had not received a specific direction of the sort from the president but that he expects them to carry out their intelligence duties, which include getting ahead of threats from Russia and others.

Warner hopes to release election security findings ‘very quickly’

12:10 p.m. 

In closing remarks, Warner said that he hopes the committee will “very quickly” release a report on the findings of its investigation specifically addressing U.S. election security. 

Warner signaled he expects the report to include a set of recommendations for officials to implement to improve the security of their voting systems in advance of the 2018 primaries. 

“It’s our hope that on election security, we can come forward with a set of recommendations very quickly because we have primaries coming up as early as March,” Warner said.

“My hope is that there will be bipartisan legislation to try to start addressing this issue,” Warner said.

Burr closes out hearing vowing to continue to investigate allegations of collusion

12:07 p.m.

Burr said the committee would continue its investigation into 2016 election meddling.

He said the committee continues to investigate the possibility of collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia, which is believed to be a central matter of focus of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Trump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts MORE’s probe.

“We will continue to work towards conclusions related to any cooperation or collusion by any individual campaign or company with efforts to influence the outcomes of elections or create societal chaos in the U.S.,” Burr said.

Burr also said that the committee is planning to hold an open hearing on election security.

Senate Intelligence Committee lawmakers will now move behind closed doors with the intelligence community chiefs for a private briefing.