Former Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) John Brennan testifies before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
John Brennan was nervous.
Under intense questioning by Representative Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) in May 2017, Brennan squirmed and stammered and twirled his pen as Gowdy demanded to know why the former CIA chief concluded in mid-2016 that the Trump campaign was conspiring with the Russians to manipulate the outcome of the presidential election.
“I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that, um, revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the, uh, Trump campaign that, um, I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals and it, uh, raised questions in my mind, again, whether or not the Russians were able to gain cooperation of those individuals,” Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee.
He rambled on: “I don’t know whether or not such ‘collusion,’”—Brennan used air quotes—”and that’s your term, existed. I don’t know. But I know there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the [FBI] to determine whether or not U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials.”
Not exactly a convincing explanation—and Gowdy was having none of it.
It was clear that Gowdy, who left office this year, already suspected Brennan largely had relied on the infamous Steele dossier as the primary source for his claims about Russian election activity.
Gowdy asked Brennan directly whether the CIA had relied on the dossier.
“No,” Brennan answered. “It wasn’t part of the corpus of intelligence information that we had. It was not in any way used as a basis for the intelligence community’s assessment that was done. Uh, it was, it was not.”
Brennan was referring to the January 6, 2017 report authored by the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency about Russia’s meddling in the election. The report claimed, based on information from multiple sources, “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
Brennan’s report earned explosive headlines and commentary from the Trump-hating media just days before Trump would be sworn in as president. But the report was always thin gruel to fortify such a damning accusation; the substance of the document runs about 12 pages with plenty of white space, irrelevant images and a graph of the social media footprint of news outlets such as Russia Today and CNN. More than two years later, portions of the report remain “highly classified.”
Did Brennan Lie to Congress?
Now, there are questions about Brennan’s truthfulness in that testimony. On Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tweeted that “a high-level source tells me it was Brennan who insisted that the unverified and fake Steele dossier be included in the Intelligence Report . . . Brennan should be asked to testify under oath in Congress ASAP.”
This seems plausible, despite Brennan’s public denials: A two-page summary of the dossier’s most explosive allegations was attached to the Intelligence Committee report and discussed during private briefings with both President Obama and Trump in early January 2017.
Brennan himself is backpedaling on his “corpus” of evidence: “I suspected that there was more than there actually was,” Brennan told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough earlier this week. “I still point to things that were done publicly or efforts to try to have conversations with the Russians that were inappropriate. But I’m not all that surprised that the high bar of criminal conspiracy was not met.”
(The clip is worth a watch. You’d think a CIA director would know how to lie better than that.)
But Brennan’s “oops, my bad” routine doesn’t exactly square with his behavior over the past three years. He was not a bit player in the Trump-Russia collusion hoax—some suspect Brennan was one of the masterminds behind the entire operation from the start, sowing the groundwork for Russian election interference claims.
In early August 2016, shortly after the FBI opened up a counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign, Brennan started circulating top-secret intelligence to President Obama and his senior aides.
“The material was so sensitive that Brennan kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report’s distribution was too broad,” according to a lengthy June 2017 article in theWashington Post. “The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid.”
Brennan convened a working group of high-ranking White House officials including former Vice President Joe Biden. He arranged for meetings between former FBI Director James Comey and top lawmakers so they could be briefed on Brennan’s secret information. In December 2016, Brennan’s CIA completed another secret assessment, without agreement from all 17 intelligence agencies, that concluded the Kremlin intervened in the election to help Trump win, and again briefed top Senators in a closed-door briefing.
Not exactly the actions of someone with mere “suspicions” about Russian election interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
Time to Declassify the 2017 Report
Brennan’s post-election conduct has been even more egregious and borderline seditious. Now an MSNBC contributor, Brennan has been a reliable spinner of Trump-Russia fairy tales.
He opened a Twitter account in December 2017, just as Nunes’ committee was closing in on the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, and has since used it threaten the president and warn his more than 600,000 followers about the danger that Trump poses to the country. Brennan has called Trump a traitor, insisted that the country’s “future is in jeopardy” and suggested that the Russians “have something personally” on the president.
Contrary to his recent recantations, Brennan has repeatedly assured Americans that Trump’s day of reckoning over election collusion was forthcoming. “Disaster looms!” he tweeted last December. “Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash. The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy,” he wrote in the New York Times in August 2018. As late as March 5, Brennan predicted Mueller would file more grand jury indictments, perhaps even against Trump’s family members.
For two years, Brennan has tried to finish what he failed to do while in office: Doom the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Senator Paul should follow through on his threat to have Brennan appear before a public congressional committee as soon as possible. President Trump should authorize the immediate declassification of Brennan’s January 2017 Intelligence Community report to determine whether any of the evidence included political opposition research authored by a British operative and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Then the American people can decide who is the real traitor.