Russia-Trump campaign contacts a concern, ex-CIA chief says

US intelligence agencies concluded in January that Moscow tried to tilt the election campaign in Trump's favour, including by hacking into the emails of senior Democrats.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Coats sidestepped questions about a Washington Post report that Trump had asked Coats and Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, to help him knock down the notion that there was evidence of such collusion. Comey's dismissal came in the middle of an Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into Russian meddling in the election and possible collusion with Trump's campaign, leading to accusations by Trump critics that the Republican president has sought to curtail the Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry, which could potentially amount to obstruction of justice.

The comments by Brennan and Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, added fuel to a controversy that has engulfed Trump since he fired FBI Director James Comey two weeks ago amid the agency's investigation into possible collusion between people associated with his presidential campaign and Russian Federation.

The Senate intelligence committee says it will subpoena two of former national security adviser Michael Flynn's businesses.

It was the closest an American intelligence official has come to explaining the genesis of the FBI investigation into whether the Trump campaign cooperated in Russia's meddling in the US election, and it made clear that what Trump has called "the Russian Federation thing" was viewed previous year with the utmost seriousness by the intelligence community.

He said that Americans don't always know when they're helping Russian spies because Russian intelligence agents often use intermediaries. Brennan had become so concerned about the possibility of a Russian intervention previous year that he had high level meetings with top officials to brief them about the nature and extent of Russia's interference.

The former Central Intelligence Agency director warned that he does not believe the Russians are done trying to interfere in America's elections and could try to influence the 2018 congressional elections. He declined to reveal details or names in public, but said decades of experience working in intelligence had taught him that Russian practice is to "suborn such individuals".

The letter says that the current context of the Senate's investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election threatens that "any testimony he provides could be used against him". "Mr. Putin and Russian officials are trying to actively exploit what is going on now in Washington to their benefit and to our detriment".

Brennan reiterated that the Central Intelligence Agency detected in 2016 possible signs of collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials. The paper reported that the intelligence chiefs refused.

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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.

He also says that before sharing such classified intelligence with foreign partners, the USA would go back to the intelligence partner that provided the information to make sure what was shared would not compromise operatives.

Brennan said he told his Russian counterpart, the head of Russia's FSB, last August that if Russia pursued its efforts to interfere, "it would destroy any near-term prospect for improvement in relations" between the two countries.

"It should be clear to everyone Russian Federation 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.

Brennan continued briefing the committee in closed session after the public hearing.

Both the Senate and the House intelligence committees are investigating Flynn and other Trump campaign associates as part of probes into Russia's election meddling.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Brennan's testimony underscored that it's important for Congress to continue conducting its own investigations even though Mueller has been appointed to lead the FBI probe. "Moreover, the director's admonition that the sharing of any classified information with the Russians should only proceed through intelligence channels, and with significant thought given to ensuring that whatever information is provided would not reveal sources and methods, should serve as a reminder to the White House of the dangers of any impromptu disclosures by the President".

Brennan became so alarmed by the Russian intervention last fall that he held classified meetings with top congressional officials to impress upon them the unprecedented nature of Moscow's interference.

"What I was very concerned the subsequent releases of what appears to be classified information purporting to point to the originator of the information, liaison partners", Brennan said, referring to press reports that the classified information came from Israel. "I find them appalling and they need to be tracked down", he added.

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