Brennan’s Role During the 2016 Elections, In His Own Words

Brennan’s Role During the 2016 Elections, In His Own Words
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) nominates chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to be CIA director at an event in the White House on Jan. 7, 2013. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Jeff Carlson
News Analysis

The role played by the CIA during the 2016 investigation into the Trump presidential campaign is receiving more attention as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, says he is “laser-focused” on uncovering what the CIA provided to the FBI as part of the "Crossfire Hurricane" probe.

"In 2016, we know from great work that [former chairman of the House Oversight Committee] Trey Gowdy did at the time ... that the CIA gave information over to the FBI in 2016," Nunes told Fox News in an interview. "We now are laser-focused on that. We need to know exactly what did the CIA give to the FBI in 2016? That's what our investigation is now focusing on."
Based on publicly available information, including statements from the man himself, John Brennan—who served as CIA director under President Barack Obama—appears to have played a key role in establishing the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Donald Trump's campaign—including making repeated use of questionable foreign intelligence during the period leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
Brennan, in congressional testimony and media interviews, has provided significant insight into his own actions and those of the CIA in connection with the investigation of the Trump campaign, including the obtaining of foreign intelligence on people connected to the campaign.

Brennan’s Own Words

On May 23, 2017, Brennan testified before the full House Intelligence Committee, and made a number of notable admissions regarding his role in providing information on individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign to the FBI: "Sometime this summer, there was information that the CIA had that was shared with the bureau. But it wasn’t the only period of time where such information was shared with the bureau."

Brennan said that the CIA was "uncovering information, intelligence about interactions and contacts between U.S. persons and the Russians. And as we came upon that, we would share it with the bureau."

The CIA’s information collection and subsequent dissemination of intelligence to the FBI was a point that Brennan reiterated several times, including during a Feb. 4, 2018, interview with Chuck Todd on NBC's "Meet the Press": “The CIA and the intelligence community had collected a fair amount of information in the summer of 2016 about what the Russians were doing on multiple fronts. And we wanted to make sure that the FBI had full access to that.”

During his May 2017 congressional testimony, Brennan also said, "I know that there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether or not U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials."

Brennan repeatedly noted during his testimony that he “made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign was shared with the bureau [FBI].”

Brennan also appeared to invoke the use of incidental collection of U.S. citizens' information that had been obtained under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), during an Aug. 17, 2018, interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

“Any time we would incidentally collect information on a U.S. person, we would hand that over to the FBI because they have the legal authority to do it. We would not pursue that type of investigative, you know, sort of leads. We would give it to the FBI," Brennan said.

“So, we were picking things up that was of great relevance to the FBI, and we wanted to make sure that they were there—so they could piece it together with whatever they were collecting domestically here."

According to reporting from The Guardian, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was involved in collecting information regarding then-candidate Trump and transmitting it to the United States already in late 2015. The GCHQ is the UK equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).
In January 2017, the BBC reported that in April 2016, “the CIA director [Brennan] was shown intelligence that worried him. It was—allegedly—a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the U.S. presidential campaign.”
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper personally confirmed foreign intelligence involvement during congressional testimony in May 2017:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: “Over the spring of 2016, multiple European allies passed on additional information to the United States about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. Is this accurate?”
Clapper: “Yes, it is, and it’s also quite sensitive. The specifics are quite sensitive.”

The BBC reported that this foreign intelligence was “passed to the U.S. by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States.” The BBC noted that the “CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created.”

Brennan later appeared to discuss the formation and use of the joint task force during his August 2018 interview with Maddow:
Maddow: “So, it’s an intelligence-sharing operation between ...”
Brennan: “Right. We put together a Fusion Center at CIA that brought NSA and FBI officers together with CIA to make sure that those proverbial dots would be connected.”
Brennan had previously discussed the task force formation during his Feb. 4, 2018, interview on "Meet the Press":
Todd: “You ran the inter-agency task force out of the CIA beginning in summer ’16—included the FBI as concerns were rising about this Russian interference. What can you say about what you believed the evidence that the FBI had to get that FISA warrant and how much of the Steele dossier was a part of it?”
Brennan: “We, the CIA and the intelligence community, had collected a fair amount of information in the summer of 2016 about what the Russians were doing on multiple fronts. And we wanted to make sure that the FBI had full access to that.”

During this same interview, Brennan was asked about any use of Five Eyes intelligence—referring to the intelligence alliance between the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—and how that, or any other information, would have been relayed into the FBI:

Todd: “Did the Papadopoulos thing come through the CIA via the Five Eyes thing? That would have been a piece of information that gets to the FBI? Is that how that works?”
Brennan: “I’m not going to get into details about how it was acquired. But the FBI has a very close relationship with its British counterparts. And so the FBI had visibility into a number of things that were going on involving some individuals who may have had some affiliation with the Trump campaign.”

Worth noting is that Brennan refused to address the origin of the intelligence and instead shifted focus onto the FBI and away from the CIA.

Notably, it was Brennan himself who said during his May 2017 congressional testimony that his “intelligence” served as the basis for the FBI counterintelligence investigation, “I was aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons ... and it served as the basis for the FBI investigation.”

But there is a problem with Brennan’s use of that intelligence.

On April 22, 2018, Nunes disclosed in a Fox News interview with Maria Bartiromo: "There was no intelligence that passed through the Five Eyes channels to our government. ... We now know that there was no official intelligence that was used to start this investigation."
Bartiromo: “You’re telling us that in order for the FBI, the Department of Justice, to launch an investigation into so-called collusion between President Trump and the Russians, there was no official intelligence used. Then how did this investigation start? I don’t understand sir. Please explain.”
Nunes: “I think that is the point. We don’t understand. We’ve never understood. We have access to these finished intelligence products and we’ve never seen one. We thought, well, maybe there was one that went through a different channel,  that was kept really quiet, that was secret, that was kept from the Congress and other folks. Well, in fact, after our investigators reviewed this, that is not what happened. There was no Five Eyes Intelligence Product, as it’s been reported. There was no product. And I think that’s a major problem.”
Despite this lack of official intelligence, Brennan testified that he had briefed the Gang of Eight—referring to the House and Senate leaders, as well as chairpersons and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees—in August and September 2016 on the information he had obtained.

It also appears that Brennan had personally informed the Obama White House.

“We kept Congress apprised of these issues as we identified them. Again in consultation with the White House, I personally briefed the full details of our understanding of Russian attempts to interfere in election to congressional leadership, specifically Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein, and Richard Burr; and to Representatives Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Devin Nunes, and Adam Schiff between 11 August and 6 September,” Brennan said during his May 2017 congressional testimony.

Brennan testified that he “provided the same briefing to each of the Gang of Eight members.”

But this statement seems at odds with later findings from Nunes, who noted that Brennan in August 2016 privately briefed then-Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about the Steele dossier, which contained uncorroborated allegations about Trump and his campaign.

“We now know that John Brennan briefed Harry Reid on the dossier in August 2016. At the same time, he never briefed me or Paul Ryan who was the speaker of the House at the time," Nunes told Bartiromo.

Nunes’s discovery appeared to be bolstered by then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who strongly indicated that Brennan knew of the dossier in August 2016 during his questioning of former FBI lawyer Lisa Page on July 16, 2018:

“So you give a brief on August the 25th. Director Brennan is giving a brief. It's not a Gang of Eight brief. It is a one-on-one, from what we can tell, a one-on-one briefing with Harry Reid at that point.”

Shortly thereafter, Meadows told Page: “We have documents that would suggest that in that briefing, the dossier was mentioned to Harry Reid. ... Does that surprise you that Director Brennan would be aware of [the dossier]?”

Page, who was part of the FBI’s team investigating the Trump campaign in 2016 and later joined special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team, responded to Meadows' question, noting, “If the CIA had another source of that information, I am neither aware of that nor did the CIA provide it to us if they did.”

For his part, Brennan has repeatedly played down his knowledge of the Steele dossier during his congressional testimony, in which he said, "I know that there were efforts made by the Bureau to try to understand whether or not any of the information in that [Steele dossier] was valid, but I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of it."

Brennan would continue to minimize his knowledge of the specifics of the dossier during later interviews, such as the one he did on "Meet the Press" in February 2018:
Todd: “When did you first learn of the so-called Steele dossier and what Christopher Steele was doing?”
Brennan: “Well, it was not a very well-kept secret among press circles for several months before it came out. And it was in late summer of 2016 when there were some individuals from the various U.S. news outlets who asked me about my familiarity with it. I had heard just snippets about it. I did not know what was in there. I did not see it until later in that year. I think it was in December. But I was unaware of the providence of it as well as what was in it. And it did not play any role whatsoever in the intelligence community assessments that were done that was presented to then-President Obama and then-President-elect Trump.”
Brennan noted at several different points that the Steele dossier wasn't used during the creation of the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) ordered by Obama. But in an Oct. 25, 2017, CNN interview, Clapper told a slightly different story:
Clapper: "Some of the substantive content, not all of it, but some of the substantive content of the dossier, we were able to corroborate in our Intelligence Community assessment from other sources in which we had very high confidence ..."

The Intelligence Community Assessment was essentially an intelligence product from Brennan and Clapper, and played an important role in advancing the Russia-collusion narrative following the election of President Trump. Notably, NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers publicly dissented from the findings of the ICA, assigning to it only a moderate confidence level.

During congressional testimony on May 9, 2017, Rogers elaborated further, noting, “I wouldn’t call it a discrepancy. I’d call it an honest difference of opinion between three different organizations and in the end, I made that call ... It didn’t have the same level of sourcing and the same level of multiple sources.”

Despite the “moderate confidence level” assigned by Rogers, the ICA was presented to Obama by Brennan, Clapper, and FBI Director James Comey in early January 2017—along with a written summary of the Steele dossier, which was provided as a two-page attachment.

During Brennan’s May 2017 testimony, then-Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked Brennan about the unmasking of U.S. persons:

Gowdy: “Have you ever requested that a U.S. person’s name be unmasked?”
Brennan: “Yes I have ...”
Gowdy: “Do you recall any U.S. ambassadors asking that names be unmasked?”
Brennan: “I don't—I don't know. Maybe it's ringing a vague bell but I'm not—I could not answer with any confidence.”

Gowdy’s question is almost certainly in reference to former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power.

According to a July 27, 2017, letter to then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Nunes noted that “one official, whose position had no apparent intelligence-related function, made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama administration.”
That official was later identified as Samantha Power, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. For her part, Power has denied that she was the person making the unmasking requests.

Brennan’s statements over the past three years raise significant questions about his role and that of the CIA during the 2016 elections.

As Attorney General William Barr noted during a May 2019 interview with CBS News: “I had a lot of questions about what was going on. I assumed I’d get answers when I went in and I have not gotten answers that are satisfactory.

"And in fact, [I] probably have more questions, and that some of the facts that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened.”

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.