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Russia 'brazenly interfered' in US election: Former CIA chief

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Former CIA Director John Brennan arrives to testify during a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about Russian actions during the 2016 election on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Former CIA Director John Brennan has publicly said Russia “brazenly interfered” with the US presidential election and that he was aware of interactions between members of Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

"It should be clear to everyone Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 presidential election process and that they undertook these activities despite our strong protests and explicit warning that they do not do so," Brennan said in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

Brennan told lawmakers he became concerned last year that Moscow was trying to influence people involved in Trump’s presidential campaign.

“I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and US persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals,” he said.

“It raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals,” he added.

John Brennan is sworn in before testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, May 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The former CIA chief said he did not know if there had been any intentional “collusion” between Trump associates and the Russian government. “I saw interaction that in my mind raised questions of whether it was collusion.”

However, he said there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that warranted further investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to determine "whether US persons were actively colluding."

Pressed by lawmakers to provide evidence that the Russian government was trying to influence the 2016 election, Brennan said, “I don’t do evidence, I do intelligence.”

"I saw information and intelligence that was worthy of investigation by the bureau (FBI) to determine whether or not such cooperation or collusion was taking place," Brennan replied.

He declined to elaborate, saying the information was classified.

Brennan also said that Trump might have broken protocol if he indeed shared highly classified information with senior Russian officials at a recent White House meeting.

During another congressional hearing on Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats refused to answer questions on whether President Trump asked him to push back against allegations of collusion with Russia.

US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies during a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

"I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president," said Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana, at the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump this month, has also agreed to testify in an “open session” of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the bureau’s ongoing investigation about Russia.

Trump’s surprise decision to dismiss Comey triggered questions on Capitol Hill whether the president obstructed justice by seeking to thwart the FBI investigation.

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The US intelligence community concluded in January that Russia tried to influence the presidential election in favor of Trump, including by launching an extensive hacking campaign against senior Democrats.

The Kremlin has categorically denied the allegation. Trump has also rejected the accusations as “baseless” and has called the FBI probe a “witch hunt.”

 


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