WASHINGTON – Former CIA Director John Brennan said Tuesday he personally warned Russia last summer against interfering in the U.S. presidential campaign, telling the Russians that continued meddling would backfire and prevent any warming of relations after the election.
The former CIA chief also told the House intelligence committee that he had become so concerned about Russian interference — and contacts between U.S. citizens “involved” with the Trump campaign and the Russians — that he convened a group of officials from the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) in late July to focus exclusively on the issue.
Republicans on the committee pushed Brennan about whether there was evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, a point President Donald Trump has tried to enlist allies to quash. Brennan said the CIA focuses on intelligence, not “evidence,” and he was not able to answer that question.
Brennan’s statements about the number of contacts between associates of the Trump campaign and the Russians again put details about the campaign’s contacts with the Kremlin into the spotlight as reports emerged that Trump had asked his national intelligence director and NSA chief to state publicly there was no evidence of collusion before investigations into the matter were complete.
Brennan testified that he spoke with the head of the Russian intelligence service on Aug. 4 and was the first U.S. official to call out the Russians for their activities. He said the head of the FSB denied that Russia was meddling, but said he would raise the issue with President Vladimir Putin.
On another intelligence matter, Brennan said that while he was CIA director he shared classified information with Russia and other nations about threats related to terrorism.
Trump has been criticized for sharing such information with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office, and Brennan said that if Trump did that spontaneously he would have violated protocol. Such classified intelligence is not shared with visiting diplomats, but can sometimes be shared through intelligence channels, he said.
He also said that before such sharing, the U.S. would go back to the intelligence partner that provided the information to make sure it would not compromise operatives. The intelligence Trump shared has been reported to have come from Israel.
Brennan’s testimony came the day after Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination in response to a subpoena from the Senate intelligence committee, which, like the House committee, is investigating the Russian interference and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. The Senate committee asked Flynn and three other Trump campaign associates for documents, including lists of meetings he had with the Russians during the campaign.
The FBI is also conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign.
The former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, previously told Congress that the Justice Department was concerned that Flynn was compromised by the Russians and could be vulnerable to blackmail as Trump’s national security adviser because of misleading statements he made to the vice president about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Trump in February fired Flynn over the misleading statements, but he has since defended Flynn and his integrity.
On Monday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House oversight committee, cited inconsistencies in Flynn’s disclosures to U.S. investigators during his security clearance review in early 2016.
Cummings said in a new letter that Flynn appeared to lie about the source of a $33,000 payment from Russia’s state-sponsored television network, failed to identify foreign officials with whom he met — including Russia’s President Vladimir Putin — and glossed over his firing as chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration. Cummings asked the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican from Utah, to subpoena the White House for documents related to Flynn.
Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, declined to comment on the new assertions by Cummings.