The Putin Files: John Brennan

The Putin Files: John Brennan

MICHAEL KIRK – Let’s start with something
a lot of people have told us. We’ll also go even further back in just
a moment, but just to go through the gears one time, let’s talk a little bit about
Ukraine. A lot of people say this was a road test for
Putin, and lots of other reasons why he did what he did in Crimea and Ukraine across the
hybrid war scheme. What did you see was happening there, from
your perspective? JOHN BRENNAN – I think it really reflected
Mr. Putin’s interest in trying to correct a historical wrong in his mind, as far as
Russia giving up part of what Putin considered the Motherland that he wanted to reclaim,
the place where the Russian Orthodox Church was born, and he’d never felt as though
Ukraine and Crimea should have left the Russian—even earlier, the Soviet orbit. Therefore, I think Mr. Putin wanted to stop
also what he thought was an eastern march on the part of the Western powers, NATO, EU. Therefore, I think he felt as though he needed
to act, because he tends to see things in zero-sum fashion. I also believe that he felt that he could
do this with relative impunity, in terms of not having a military response from the West
or the United States. Therefore, the move was quick. But also, I think it reflected a broader strategic
interest on the part of Mr. Putin to secure his near abroad, as it’s said, and do it
in a way that I think he felt confident was not going to beget a Western military reaction. MICHAEL KIRK – When you look back on it from
our vantage point now, watching and thinking about what happened in the summer of 2016
in the fall, there are also all kinds of just tactical things he does, they do, that resonate:
a lot of fake news, a lot of information war, a lot of lying about things that happened. From your perch at the CIA, what were you
watching, and what were you learning? Or what felt new? JOHN BRENNAN – Mr. Putin is a creature of
his past and of his intelligence experience, and I do believe that he sees, and at that
time saw, the Russian intelligence services as being a tremendous instrument of influence,
so that he could do things insidiously within countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, even inside
of Europe, that he could try to exploit situations that was going to advantage Russia. When we were getting closer to the 2016 presidential
election, I think some of the things that we were seeing early on were just symptoms
and indicators of Russia’s interest in trying to manipulate foreign events to Russia’s
advantage. Any type of political process or election
I think Mr. Putin sees as ripe for Russian intelligence-service engagement and also as
a fair amount of, I think, competition among Russian intelligence services. They try to please the boss, and they do things,
both in terms of collecting information as well as their active measures, whether it
be propaganda or even getting people to get on the Russian payroll. I think certainly CIA and intelligence professionals
had a good understanding about Mr. Putin’s overarching strategic objectives, what he
was trying to accomplish, and therefore we had our antenna up, looking for signs that
Mr. Putin was pursuing these objectives, whether it be in the near abroad, whether it be in
Western Europe, or whether it be here in the United States. MICHAEL KIRK – So in things like sending in
[into Ukraine] uniformed soldiers with no insignias on the uniforms, what did you make
of that? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, in some respects, he
does things surreptitiously with his intelligence services, but also, I think he likes to try
to intimidate his foes. So it was no secret to people that individuals
with military uniforms with no insignia, who happened to show up in the eastern part of
Ukraine, fighting against the government forces, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind where
they came from and that they were sent there by Mr. Putin. I think it was Mr. Putin’s way to, again,
try to bully others and to show that Russia is there and is going to use its influence,
as well as its capabilities and its power, to achieve its objectives. MICHAEL KIRK – There were many arguments inside
the United States government about lethal arming of the Ukrainian forces. … What did you believe? Maybe you can’t say what you’d advise the
president, but the idea that we should push back at him, we should in some way let him
know he’s not going to get away with this, more robustly than we did. JOHN BRENNAN – Mr. Putin is, I think, a very
cunning individual, and he really takes the measure of his adversaries and opponents. When he moved into Ukraine, I do believe he
felt as though, if he did it with great emphasis and force, that it was not going to engender
a military response on the part of the West. I do think he felt that, certainly toward
the last four years of the Obama administration, that there was a predictability as far as
Washington’s reaction, and I think he recognized that President Obama was reluctant to engage
in military conflicts, and therefore, would use other instruments of U.S. power—sanctions,
for example. But I do think Mr. Putin’s decisions to
move into Ukraine, his decision to move into Syria with military forces, was based on the
premise that there was not going to be a symmetric Western military response. I felt as though, in some instances, we should
have made our reactions less predictable to Mr. Putin. I felt as though there were things that we
could have done that wouldn’t have got us into a proxy war. I remember being on the schoolyards of New
Jersey, when I grew up, and bullies try to intimidate, and they keep moving forward unless
they get their nose bloodied a little bit. I felt as though Mr. Putin really needed to
get his nose bloodied. I think it would have caused him to back off,
because like most bullies, he knows that he can’t stand up to others. It’s a lot of bluster. His willingness to use that type of intimidating
tactics, I think, could have been slowed, if not reversed, if he encountered pushback. MICHAEL KIRK – Does he feel, in any way, as
the ergo attached to that, a kind of boldness to begin to probe our election process, to
step forward in even a more robust way in 2015, in the initial sort of probes that Mr.
Clapper talked about back in ’15, and the summer of 2016, which you know and lived through
vividly? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, there is truth to the
narrative that Mr. Putin has—and Russians, the Soviets before them, tried to engage in
interference in elections for many, many years, in the European theater in particular, but
also here in the United States. However, over time, there are new means and
new techniques and new technologies that make engagement in the election process more available,
I guess, to manipulation by Russian intelligence services. With the emergence of the digital domain and
the cybersphere and the ability to hack into email servers, I think there are just new
attack vectors and avenues for the Russian intelligence services to take advantage of. I do think that they had the direction to
collect as much as they could, as they usually do, about political processes. But also, there was a decision made on the
part of the Russians and Mr. Putin in particular to authorize the leveraging of that intelligence
that was collected, information that was collected. MICHAEL KIRK – … You said they’d been
in our election process all the way back into the Soviet Union times. But things, because of technology and other
things, have improved and enhanced their process. JOHN BRENNAN – The U.S. Intelligence Community
and the CIA were quite mindful of our responsibilities to monitor and to assess Russian activities
that were trying to undermine U.S. national security, especially in a presidential election
year. So we, CIA, worked very closely with FBI and
NSA and director of national intelligence to make sure that we had our radar tuned and
that we were going to be very vigilant for any type of Russian interference. We have a lot of experience and expertise
at CIA and at the other agencies in terms of Russian tactics and techniques. We have some of the world’s greatest experts. And so we were, I think, well prepared to
pick up signs. As 2015 and 2016 rolled on, we did have clear
indications that the Russians were going to try to maybe reprise, in a much more intense
and pervasive manner, some of their earlier efforts to interfere in elections. MICHAEL KIRK – When Mr. Clapper is talking
in Aspen in 2015, he is clearly concerned. He’s raising alarm bells, because he anticipated
something even worse than ever before, or the sort of generalized call to arms in 2015. JOHN BRENNAN – Well, we saw a pattern over
the last several years, certainly in the second half of the Obama administration, when relations
between Washington and Moscow were declining as a result of a number of factors. The effort to reset the relationship between
Russia and the United States had faltered. We had the Russian SVR [Russia’s External
Intelligence Service] illegals that were rounded up here in the United States, and it was a
clear indication that the Russians were continuing on their usual course of trying to undermine
U.S. national security. Then we saw what Russia did in Ukraine, and
there was an aggressiveness, I think, across the board. We saw things happening in Europe in elections
there, in the 2012-2013-2014 time period. So there was, in some respects, a building
crescendo, I guess, as we were entering the presidential election campaign season, of
Russian aggressiveness. Therefore, we were very concerned that we
might be seeing Russian efforts to undermine the integrity and credibility of the U.S.
presidential election of 2016. MICHAEL KIRK – People in the government high
up in the Obama administration say that they expected espionage, but that was a sort of
standard-operating-procedure game that’s played by us and by them and by everybody
in the world around elections, but that the fear was the weaponization of that information,
the way that it had been used in Ukraine and even in Estonia; that they had a new toy to
play with, and that that was releasing that information, and that they’d seen a little
bit of it around the [then-Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs]
Toria Nuland wiretapped phone call, when they released it and made political points out
of something like that. Do I have that about right? JOHN BRENNAN – The Russians and the Soviets
before them were very proficient, let me put it that way, in the use of active measures
on the propaganda front. For many, many years they would try to put
into the Western media circles stories that advanced Russian interests and tried to harm
U.S. and Western interests. The real distinction over the last several
years, again, is this digital environment, where now you have so many new opportunities
to apply your intelligence wares. First of all, social media has given intelligence
services, especially the Russians, a lot of opportunity to put things out into that social
media environment, information that purports to be real, but is part of their active measures
influenced propaganda effort. At the same time, Russian espionage activities,
in terms of collecting intelligence that would be used in the past to inform Russian active
measures, now in and of itself can become a weapon, be weaponized, so that you can take
emails and information that you collect from that digital environment, from servers and
networks and email servers, and put it out in an effort to try to embarrass your targets. What the Russian services did, and what they
are very capable of doing now, is reaching into that cybersphere, collecting a lot of
information, as we saw from the Democratic National Committee, DCCC [Democratic Congressional
Campaign Committee], and then taking judicious and selective use of information in emails
to be able to put out as a way to again advance their interests by embarrassing individuals
that they see as their targets. MICHAEL KIRK – Before we go much further,
let’s go backward, just one more time, for a little back story. Let’s go to 2011-2012, the protests in Moscow. The way the story goes, social media invigorated
people who would otherwise not have come out, would not have come out in nearly the numbers
that they came out at those times, with a sort of angry response to Putin, saying, “Medvedev
is gone; I’m going to take it [the presidency] again,” and lots of other reasons ; people
using cell phones to verify it and run it on the Web and people hitting the streets,
confirming, I suppose, because it happens at the same time that Arab Spring is happening,
Putin’s paranoia, or his view that the hand of America is all over all of this. And he doesn’t apparently—according to
people we talked to over there, he’s not at the time very conversant with what is the
Web and how is the West using the Web, and [he] is shocked and amazed at everything,
from Hillary Clinton’s statements being broadcast all over the Internet to everything
else that’s happening to him. He has to ascribe it to something. He ascribes it to us and our use of social
media. Help me understand your perspective on that. JOHN BRENNAN – Well, I think Mr. Putin has
an affliction like, unfortunately, many world leaders have, which is an innate sense of
insecurity as well as paranoia. I think Mr. Putin looked at developments around
the world, as well as inside of Russia, as being carried out, in many respects, by Western
intelligence services. Over the years, I was quite frankly shocked
when I would see so many things ascribed to CIA that CIA had no engagement in whatsoever. And I think Mr. Putin would look at developments,
particularly inside of Moscow, if there was opposition activity, or if there were protests,
or any type of actions that were counter to what he wanted, he saw CIA’s hand behind
it and saw the U.S.’s hand behind it. Therefore, I think he had this innate sense
of almost persecution. Also, I think he felt as though not only he
was being persecuted, but the Russian people were, and he felt as though he had to stand
up for them. But I must tell you that a lot of things that
Mr. Putin thought were a direct result of CIA efforts absolutely were not. MICHAEL KIRK – It’s an interesting thing. Here is a guy who’s a KGB officer, and we’re
now back in 1987-88, who’s a counterintelligence guy, right? He’s supposed to be paranoid. He’s supposed to anticipate bad things coming
in his direction. Talk to me a little bit about Putin, from
what you know, from Putin—profile Putin the KGB officer in Dresden and at the end
of the Soviet Union. JOHN BRENNAN – I think Mr. Putin was always
a hardworking, diligent intelligence officer. But he joined Russian intelligence, I think
during their waning days, in the latter years of the Cold War, when they really felt aggrieved
and the much lesser power than the United States, so I think that just reinforced some
of his feelings of insecurity, and I think that carried over to him when he then entered
public office in Russia. I really feel as though he looked upon the
United States as being this enormous power that, in his mind, I think unfairly used its
power to subjugate Soviet Union Russian people. I do think Mr. Putin had a real sense of this
second-class status, that was a bit of a chip on his shoulder, that he always had to prove
himself. You know, partly that was also the way he
was brought up in the period of time, and again felt as though he was being targeted
by others. I think he always felt an urge to fight back. Therefore, when he rose up the ladder of the
Russian political system, he was doing it as a sense of competition. He was doing it in a sense that he was trying
to, I think, gain favor at the expense of others. Again, I think it just reflects the prism
that he looked at the world with, but also he looked at his country with. Again, I think in many respects, he’s a
loner. He looks out for himself, but recognizes that
he is dependent on other support in order to continue to pursue his goals and objectives. MICHAEL KIRK – He must be an amazing actor
in some ways, to go from Dresden to St. Petersburg, sign up with a democrat, [Anatoly Sobchak,
mayor of St. Petersburg], rise up in the ranks, and then find himself, six years later, the
head of the newly created FSB [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation] and soon
prime minister and then president. JOHN BRENNAN – Well, I think he has this very
strong survival instinct, so when the Soviet Union was collapsing, I think he was looking
for, how is he going to survive this traumatic experience? Also, then when you had Mr. Yeltsin emerge
as the president, I think Mr. Putin’s effort was to try to ensure that he was going to
be able to flourish professionally during that time. I think he had some chameleon qualities that
he could adapt to the realities around him. But I think he was always driven by a sense
that he wanted to be at the top of the heap. In that respect, I think, again, he is a cunning
individual from the standpoint of being able to navigate some of the political shoals inside
of Russia, but also in some respects he’s a very astute observer of the international
environment, and that’s why I think he takes the measure of his opponents and adversaries
and counterparts around the world, and he tries to find their weaknesses or their soft
spots, and takes full advantage of it. I think he has been able to get the better
of a number of individuals. MICHAEL KIRK – When he was appointed president,
you’re at the agency. What was the consensus about him? Was there a consensus about what was going
to happen? Was he going to be a soft authoritarian? Was he going to be a continuation of the democratic
principles that Yeltsin was trying to bring? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, it certainly was a break
from the Yeltsin years, and especially in the latter Yeltsin years, when people were
really concerned that this individual, President Yeltsin, was in a state of decline in terms
of physical health as well as mental health. Putin arrived with the reputation of being
a serious person, with intelligence background, somebody that the CIA certainly was looking
at very, very closely. But he, in some respects, from our perspective—and
I wasn’t following Russia in depth at the time—[was] a bit of an enigma, because I
don’t think we knew enough about him and what his ultimate aspirations and worldview
were. That emerged over time. But I think people saw him as somebody who
was going to become immersed in his position. But still, Russia was climbing out of the
Soviet era still, and there was a fair amount of jockeying among a number of Russian political
luminaries. We didn’t know whether or not Mr. Putin
was going to be a passing phase or if he was going to be an enduring individual from the
standpoint of Russia’s political future. MICHAEL KIRK – He gives an amazing speech
in 2007 in Munich, where he essentially declares war on the world in some—a hell of a far
piece from where he was when he first took over in 1999. JOHN BRENNAN – What we saw was an increasing
assertiveness on the part of Mr. Putin, and I think it was smart of him to start out rather
slowly. I think he cut his political teeth when he
was the vice mayor of St. Petersburg. He was, again, a pretty good student, a good
intelligence officer from the standpoint of collecting intelligence, taking a book on
people, and finding out where the seams might be, where the opportunities might be. Therefore, by the time he had several years
under his belt and then came back into the presidency, I think he had much greater self-confidence
and a much greater sense of what he not just wanted to do, but what he needed to do, in
his mind, in order to solidify his political base in Russia. When he became president for a second time,
I think it was at that point that he decided he was going to be president for life, and
he was not going to give up power. He was going to amass power not just on the
political scene in Moscow, but also on the world stage, because I do think he understands
that time is not on Russia’s side. When you look at the demographics, you look
at the lack of diversity in the economy, you look at the brain drain, the loss of entrepreneurial
and technical talent, I think he sees that he needs to seize the moment and try to be
as assertive as possible, because over time, Russia’s influence, I think, he sees would
wane, because if you look at the Russian prospectus—and I think he did look at it—he saw that he
needed to do things maybe sooner rather than later, protect his flanks that he thought
were under assault by encroachment from the West, but also demonstrate to others and potential
client states that Russia was a force that was going to reassert itself on the world
stage, because I think he does view the superpower competition between the United States and
Russia in zero-sum fashion. Therefore, when he sees that the United States
is weakened or diminished in any way, to include on the domestic political front in Washington,
it only redounds to Russia’s interests, and that’s where I think Mr. Putin really
tries to, again, bloody the United States’ nose, because he feels as though, if that
happens, it just accrues to his benefit. MICHAEL KIRK – One of the things we watched
develop in this film is his creation of cyber- and other weapons, so that he can fight above
his weight in a kind of asymmetrical way. We see the first instance of this is Estonia,
when they shut the place down. What did you make of what they were doing
in Estonia? What was the meaning of that to you? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, intelligence services,
including the Russians, recognized that modern-day warfare and modern-day political influence
has a lot more avenues of pursuit than it did in the last century, again, because there
are ways to manipulate the cyber realm and to either send signals or to actually disable
or cripple others. In places like Estonia and places like Georgia,
as well as in Ukraine, I think Mr. Putin and his services recognized that they can do things
without having to assert, at least in a physical way, Russia’s military capabilities. You can do things that are more insidious,
maybe a bit more subtle, but yet as impactful, because you can do things in the cyber realm
that [are] going to bring down infrastructure, bring down capabilities of other countries. Again, as part of the bullying tactics and
intimidation, it’s a way to send a full broadside against either adversaries or potential
adversaries, or ones who might be getting out of line a bit. When Mr. Putin looks at the Baltic states,
he recognizes a number of things. One is that he feels a certain obligation
to some of the Russian-speaking peoples that are there. He also is very concerned that these states
that were once under the yoke of the Soviets should not venture too far to the West. I do think Mr. Putin is willing to pull some
levers, and it’s obvious and known to everybody that Russia is pulling the levers. But he’s able to, again, send the message
that he wants. But he also, I think, has a good sense of
brinksmanship as far as what he can do without a response against him that he would prefer
to avoid. MICHAEL KIRK – Just purely from a mechanical
perspective, your observation on—is he, in a place like Estonia, in a place like Ukraine,
is he pushing the “go” button, or is he like the head of a movie studio, where he’s
got a lot of independent producers who do things? You mentioned earlier that they want to appeal
to him by doing great things that he acknowledges and really appreciates. So in places like Ukraine, in the hacking
that they used, even in Georgia and Ukraine, but also Estonia, is it individuals and kind
of—he calls them patriotic hackers. Or is it the GRU [military intelligence] general
[who] says, “Go,” or the FSB general [who] says, “Go”? JOHN BRENNAN – I think Mr. Putin has given
his intelligence services a fair amount of authority to move forward and implement some
of his policy objectives. That said, I am also confident that any Russian
action that has potential strategic consequence, such as taking down cybersystems, digital
systems, infrastructure in other countries, whether it be in Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine
areas, that’s something that he would have given his personal authorization for. I don’t think Russian intelligence chiefs
want to go beyond their ski tips, as far as what it is that they are doing that could
escalate and spiral. So I do think things such as that, or to engage
in an election that could have some real significant repercussions, I am confident, very confident,
that they would have run those things by Mr. Putin. The actual details of how it would be implemented
is something that I think Mr. Putin would leave to his intelligence chiefs, but the
“go” signal, the green light would have come from Mr. Putin. MICHAEL KIRK – So when Cozy Bear jumps inside
the State Department in ’15 and the White House and other places, you’re alerted? You’re alerted to this? And you assume it’s Putin saying, “Let’s
go over there and see what we can clean out of the closet”? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, there’s a real distinction
between what intelligence services collect and then what they actually do with that collection. I don’t think the intelligence services
need to get Mr. Putin’s authorization to collect against their principal targets, whether
it be against the intelligence community of the United States or State Department or even
the White House. That intelligence collection is just part
of the M.O. of intelligence services. But to take information that is collected
maybe against those targets and then to release it, I guess it depends on the specificity
as well as on the potential backlash. So I think some of these things are sui generis
from the standpoint of depending on what it is that they’re doing, they will go up and
seek Mr. Putin’s approval. But the mere collection of intelligence is
something that I think the GRU and SVR and FSB do on a regular basis. Taking some of that information and seeding
it into maybe some other propaganda, I think that also is part of the Russian M.O. But to do something that is going to be potentially
explosive as well as disruptive, I do think that those intelligence chiefs in Russia,
the ones that have been able to survive over the course of many years, they know, I think,
the limits of their prerogatives and their authorizations. That’s where they go to Mr. Putin and say,
“We plan to do this or this,” to make sure you get his head nod. MICHAEL KIRK – So in 2016, …When you first
get an inclination of the thing that is going to occupy all of our minds last summer, the
first I can find in the press of you really talking about it is late June or early July. But you must have known much earlier that
Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear and other things were happening with the DNC. Were you aware of things earlier? Tell me when you were aware of what was happening,
and that it was kind of different in some kind. JOHN BRENNAN – CIA always has its counterintelligence
radar up for Soviet efforts to harm our national security, and there are things that we see
that give us indications about the Russians going down a particular path or trying to
exploit a certain opportunity. It’s our responsibility and obligation to
make sure that we keep our senior officials in the White House informed, that we keep
our FBI brethren informed. So, through the course of 2015 and 2016, CIA
was fulfilling its responsibilities to monitor, to collect and to inform. I am loath to give any particular timeframe
or dates or reasons because that’s part of the intelligence business. We look at the situation, we identify certain
bits and pieces of data, and we correlate them. It’s like people who, I think, observe the
weather. You see certain barometric conditions that
are starting to form, and you say, “You know, this seems as though it’s ripe for
a tornado to develop.” What you try to do is to track it and to see
whether or not those early indicators are true indicators of a rising storm. MICHAEL KIRK – We start to hear about it in
some ways in late June/early July of 2016. What made it suddenly come on our radar screens? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, during the summer of
2016, there was a fair amount of press attention to various efforts on the part of hackers
to get into the systems. Obviously, the media spotlight was quite heavy
on the presidential election and the campaign season and the contenders for the presidency. There was a lot that was in the air, and there
was a lot of interest on the part of folks downtown to see what the Russians might be
up to. Again, we were looking very carefully. We had our sensors out. We had our ears attuned and our eyes directed
on the places that we thought the Russians might be working on. Things started to emerge, and as good intelligence
officers, we were looking for indicators that might come through many different collections
systems, whether they be CIA, NSA, FBI. But also, we were putting many, many years
of expertise, overlaying that over those indicators; also touching base with our foreign counterparts,
some of those European services that had up-close and direct experience with some of the Russian
activities. So this all was part of the effort to discern
exactly what Russia was doing. MICHAEL KIRK – There must have been a moment
where you said, “This is different in kind in some way, and I know,” and your alarm
bells as an experienced person were ringing pretty loudly that a tornado was on the horizon. When was that? JOHN BRENNAN – It was in the summer of 2016. I don’t want to be more specific than that
because I do want to be, again, mindful of the need to continue to be able to track and
monitor some of the things that Russia is doing. But in the summer it was quite clear to me
that we were seeing a campaign on the part of the Russians, that this was not just sort
of the usual stuff that we’d seen before; that it was a much more aggressive, much more
intense, and much more worrisome effort, because the exploitation of the cyber environment
gave us real concern that the Russians could be up to things that we hadn’t seen before,
and we didn’t know what they were going to try to do. We had seen, over the course of years, what
they had done in Europe, to include financial payments and, again, intimidation efforts,
even blackmail of political parties and political officials. In some respects, they stoop to whatever tactic
they can. But this storm was brewing in the summer,
which is why I decided that I was going to raise this issue with one of my principal
counterparts, [FSB Director] Mr. Alexander Bortnikov, on the 4th of August. MICHAEL KIRK – Before we get to Mr. Bortnikov’s—the
phone call, you’re worried enough, from what I gather, that you want to hold this really
closely. This is not something that’s in the PDB
[President’s Daily Brief] in the morning, with the president. This is not something that you’re spreading
around for the month of July at least. JOHN BRENNAN – In my intelligence career,
I’ve been involved in many, many sensitive intelligence programs and activities. Getting bin Laden was one of the most sensitive. It was held to a very few people. But I must say that counterintelligence cases
are the ones that the CIA and the FBI hold most tightly for a variety of reasons. One is that sometimes it involves U.S. persons
who have been recruited by the Russians, and you want to make sure that you protect that
information for the privacy of individuals who may be suspected but not actually guilty. In addition, though, it’s an ongoing case. And what you’re trying to do is uncover what
the Russians are involved in. In order to do that, you have to make sure
that you keep that information very tightly held, because any exposure, any leak could
be devastating, in terms of shutting down a counterintelligence investigation, because
your leads will go dry. Therefore, when we saw that the Russians were
actively and aggressively trying to interfere in our election, during the election period,
we needed to make sure that we did everything possible to aggressively pursue that, to uncover
and discover what they were doing, but at the same time protect that information. So we briefed a very small number of people
at the highest levels of government in the executive branch, as well as in the Congress,
to make sure that they were aware that CIA, along with our intelligence partners, were
actively and aggressively seeking to uncover, and then as directed and as needed, to thwart
these Russian efforts. MICHAEL KIRK – In those early days, who knows? Before you send the sealed letter over to
the White House in early August, as it’s been reported, how small is the circle that
you draw? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, first of all, I met with
my people at CIA who were uncovering this information, and I wanted to really understand
what it is that we knew, what our gaps were, our confidence level. We had some very intense and long meetings
at CIA headquarters about this. Once it was apparent to me that we were encountering
something that was unlike what we had seen before, I reached out to the White House and
wanted to have a meeting with the president. So I had a phone conversation with one of
my close colleagues down at the White House, and I said, “I need to see the president.” I was able to get in and see the president
very quickly and walked him through it and told him and the national security adviser
and one or two other people from the White House, what we were encountering, what we
had to deal with, and how we were going to handle it. I talked through some of the mechanisms that
we would keep them informed in consultation with the president and the others at the White
House. We agreed that I needed to reach out immediately
to the Gang of Eight—that’s the leadership in the Senate and the House of Representatives—and
to make sure that they were aware of this, because we thought that it was most important
for our senior legislators to know what the Russians were up to, but also how were we
going to handle it. MICHAEL KIRK – When you go in and see the
president, can you put a date on it for us, or do you want to keep that? JOHN BRENNAN – It was in the summer, early
summer. It was certainly before I spoke— MICHAEL KIRK – Really? JOHN BRENNAN – It was certainly before I spoke
to Mr. Bortnikov. MICHAEL KIRK – Yeah, so before that, of course. JOHN BRENNAN – Absolutely. MICHAEL KIRK – So sometime in July. How do you say it to the president, Mr. Brennan? And how does he react? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, I’ve had some experience
over the years in briefing presidents and making sure that they understood exactly what
it is that we know, how we know it. I wanted to not over-brief it and to make
sure the president understood the foundations of our understanding, and also make sure the
president understood how we would be able to collect further on this, what the limitations
were as well as the sensitivity of it. That’s one of the things that I wanted to
make sure that I underscored, the sensitivity of this type of information. MICHAEL KIRK – What do you mean, sensitivity? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, again, in any counterintelligence
investigation, there are an array of collection capabilities that you try to leverage, and
you try to protect those sources of methods. So I want to make sure that I was able to
share the substance of the information, but also wanted to make sure they understood how
it is that we acquire the information and why is it that we have the confidence in it. MICHAEL KIRK – So you can be specific with
the president. You can say whatever it is, “We have somebody
in there, we have technology; we have”— JOHN BRENNAN – I was specific with the president. I was specific with the Gang of Eight in terms
of how we knew it. And I wanted to make sure that I highlighted
the sensitivity. The president, national security adviser,
the Gang of Eight and some of the other senior members of the National Security Council were
fully aware of the information we had. Now, not every bit in detail I shared because
there was no need to, but they needed to have a good understanding and grasp of the foundations
of this information. MICHAEL KIRK – The president’s reaction
in that initial conversation? JOHN BRENNAN – The president, in the summer
of 2016, was already well aware and I think appreciative of the intelligence community’s
capabilities, and also was well aware of Russian activities around the globe, too, including
elections. So I think what he— MICHAEL KIRK – You mean from the PDB, the
briefing. JOHN BRENNAN – Yeah. Over the years, we’ve been briefing him on
what the Russians were doing in a lot of other elections and the Russian cyber capabilities
or whatever. So it was not shocking or surprising, but
it was something that was, I think, worrying to all of us, particularly since we didn’t
know the extent of what it is that the Russians were engaged in, and we didn’t know how
far they would go to really threaten the integrity of the election. MICHAEL KIRK – They hadn’t yet done the
Wiki dump? JOHN BRENNAN – No, there were still things
that the Russians were—ultimately did. MICHAEL KIRK – That they hadn’t done yet
when you have this conversation. JOHN BRENNAN – Mm-hmm. MICHAEL KIRK – But people have described him
as grave at that, kind of countenance of gravity was really—yes? JOHN BRENNAN – The president was very concerned
about what the Russians were doing. The president was very focused on what it
is we needed to do in order to uncover and to stop them from doing it. But the president also, I think, was rightly
concerned about doing something in the middle of a presidential election season, to thwart
the Russians but at the same time not assist the Russians by doing something that was going
to raise even more questions about the credibility and integrity of the election. The president was fixated on this. He told us to do everything we could, from
a collection standpoint, to make sure that we kept him informed, which we did. But also, he was, I think, at that point then
really thinking about what course of action he should take in terms of public statements,
actions, as well as private actions. He was thinking about it as the president
of the United States and wanting to make sure that the 2016 presidential election could
be carried out in the most fair, free and uninterrupted manner as possible. MICHAEL KIRK – You had said earlier, John,
that you knew Putin, and you know how it works. You know how the vertical power works there
to get something done. When you finally are convinced by your guys,
and it doesn’t sound like it took a long time for them to convince you that this was
happening, are you saying: “This is a Putin operation. This is a direct-line Putin operation”? Is Putin your guy from almost from the beginning? And do you tell the president that? JOHN BRENNAN – From the very beginning, I
made it clear to the president that it was—certainly CIA’s considered view that this was an activity
and a campaign that was authorized by Mr. Putin. MICHAEL KIRK – Did he want to pull [then-Director
of National Intelligence James] Clapper and [then-FBI Director James] Comey in on this? Are they already part of this by then? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, after I met with my people
at the agency, I made a number of phone calls and spoke to the White House to get on the
president’s calendar. I also, right away, spoke to Jim Clapper. Jim was not available to come down to the
White House with me at the time when I met with the president, but I wanted to make sure
that Jim was fully apprised of what it was that we had come to understand, and what I
was going to brief the president about. Right after I briefed the president, as I
recall, I spoke with Jim Comey and let him know exactly what it is that we needed to
do together and had a conversation shortly thereafter with Mike Rogers from NSA, because
the president recognized that for any type of counterintelligence effort that needs to
be undertaken by the U.S. government, the CIA, the FBI and NSA are the three principal
agencies that really need to take this and do everything possible to understand it better. MICHAEL KIRK – Did you guys know that Guccifer
and [Julian] Assange from WikiLeaks were waiting in the wings right before the DNC dump, or
did that come as a surprise? JOHN BRENNAN – We were looking at what the
Russians were doing. We were working through what options the Russians
were considering in terms of taking advantage of some of their espionage exploits and their
cyberhacking activities. We were looking at the various mechanisms
and distribution systems that they could take advantage of. Again, our experts CIA, and FBI and NSA’s
experts, identified the more likely culprits in this. Again, we have a lot of expertise that we
were able to take advantage of, so when things started to show up and come out, we were able
to put together some bits and pieces of information and intelligence, as well as look at it against
the backdrop of things that had happened previously. MICHAEL KIRK – The meaning of Wiki’s release
right before the Democratic National Convention, to you: What was the importance of that to
you? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, we were following with
great interest the timing of some of these activities in terms of when something would
be released, and did it happen on the eve of a certain development or event such as
the Democratic National Convention? By looking at the timing and the action, one
could then have a good sense of motivation, and it also would help to validate some of
the things that we had come already to understand or to believe. So we were tracking that. I think that’s a very important part of
the intelligence business. You look at actions, you look at developments,
you look at statements, and you look at things along a timeline, and then do some correlations,
because it frequently will give you a sense of motivation and objectives. MICHAEL KIRK – So by now, the press is going
basically crazy about this story, and everybody is pushing, I would assume the Clinton campaign
is also saying, “Oh, my God,” right, because they know. Was it at this early stage, did you know the
Russians favored Trump and were after Mrs. Clinton? JOHN BRENNAN – The Intelligence Community
assessment that ultimately was published and released to the public in early January, it
had, you know, three principal conclusions: one, to undermine the integrity of the election
and interfere in that electoral process; two, to denigrate Hillary Clinton, either if she
won or to stop her or to muddy her when she emerged as president; and then for Mr. Trump
to be advantaged by these Russian efforts. And looking back, it was CIA’s judgment—I
think the judgment of the other agencies as well, early on, that the Russian strategy
was designed to promote the prospects for Mr. Trump. In the summer of 2016, it was our assessment
that the Russians were trying to enhance Mr. Trump’s prospects for electoral victory. Even though it was our assessment that the
Russians didn’t see him as the likely winner, but they had a multipronged campaign strategy. So yes, early on, in 2016, it was our view
that the Russians were trying to improve Mr. Putin’s [sic] prospects, which they thought
were unlikely. MICHAEL KIRK – You mean Mr. Trump’s prospects. JOHN BRENNAN – Mr. Trump’s prospects. In 2016 they were trying to enhance Mr. Trump’s
prospects to emerge victorious in the election, even though they thought it was a bit of a
long shot. MICHAEL KIRK – And Mr. Trump’s response
must have been fascinating to you: “Hey! Go find Hillary’s—hey, Russia, if you’re
breaking in, go find it,” he treats it frivolously almost, yeah? JOHN BRENNAN – Mr. Trump’s comments about
Mr. Putin and Russia and Russian intelligence have been baffling to me for quite some time. During the election campaign, when he encouraged
the Russians to release emails, to his favorable comments about Mr. Putin, these are things
that I still am very, very puzzled about. MICHAEL KIRK – The [Washington] Post writes
a story about a letter you send over in early August to the White House for the eyes of
four people, the president and three other people. Did such a letter actually go to the White
House? And what was it about, if you’ve already
had a conversation with the president and others? JOHN BRENNAN – On the morning of the day that
I briefed the president, I sent over a very short note, cryptic note, that was for the
president, the national security adviser, and a couple of other folks down there, that
gave the topic, the subject of the briefing that I was going to provide to the president. I wanted to make sure that they understood
the gravity of what it was that I needed to brief, and therefore getting on the president’s
schedule. And I said I needed some time to basically
walk him through this. I wanted to make sure that they knew it, so
I gave them a very, very brief heads-up in a very short note that I sent over there in
the morning. MICHAEL KIRK – Do you remember what you said? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, I talked about: this
deals with Russia and interference in the election. I think I had a few other lines in there,
but I wanted to reserve the substance of the brief, given the sensitivity of it, for my
oral briefing that I gave to the president. MICHAEL KIRK – And is it true the report that
it was to be in he hands of only four people, and it was to be returned? JOHN BRENNAN – There were four people that
were in the briefing for the president. It was the president, national security adviser,
deputy national security adviser, and the president’s chief of staff and myself. That was it. MICHAEL KIRK – It feels like an unbelievably
historic moment. JOHN BRENNAN – It was one that certainly I’ll
remember. I understood the gravity of the issue. I understood the importance of what it was
that I was going to tell the president, not because it was a one-time briefing; it was
because we had our work cut out for us in the coming months. It was going to be a very, very challenging
intelligence effort. It was going to be a very challenging policy
effort as well, from the standpoint of what to do. And this was uncharted territory in many respects. I certainly had never been involved in something
like this. We had to be thinking constantly about what
we needed to do on the collection side; what do we need to do in terms of informing policymakers,
coming up with options, informing Congress, what to say publicly? These were all things that we had to make
decisions about. And I didn’t have a playbook for this. I had to deal with it based on my experience
and based on my counterintelligence experience. We were navigating shoals that I had never
encountered before. And I must say, looking back on it, I think
we did a pretty good job of, again, working with our partners, FBI and NSA and DNI, keeping
the White House informed and national security officials informed, as well as the Congress. I very much hope that, as the Senate and the
House Intelligence Committees continue to do their work, that they will come up with
some legislation that will mandate certain things to happen prior to a presidential congressional
election. For example, maybe coming out with a public
statement on the part of the director of national intelligence and director of FBI, 120 days
before such election, to let the American people know what’s the state of the electoral
system, what type of hacking efforts have we seen. And then maybe reserving for the congressional
leadership and the White House officials a classified briefing about the types of things
that we’re seeing so that there would be a bit of a legislatedly mandated playbook,
so that the future intelligence and law enforcement officials can really be able to deal with
this—such a situation in the future in the best way possible. MICHAEL KIRK – For those of us who are trying
to read tea leaves and connect dots from way outside up in the atmosphere somewhere, it
looks early on in July and August, like the FBI hasn’t really signed on yet to the magnitude
that you’re talking about. Even Clapper seems a little behind the curve. We’re going to talk to him next week, so
we’ll hear his side of that. But I don’t see, from right away, a kind
of unanimity like you had. Was that your sense, too? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, before I briefed the
president, and I had extended discussions with individuals inside of CIA, inside of
CIA we have FBI agents who are working cheek-to-jowl as part of the counterintelligence effort. These are people who really look at every
bit of information, every bit of data. I think that they had confidence, first, before
anybody, because they were swimming in the data. Then, when I started to dip into it as well,
I became more confident. That data, which was multifaceted, had to,
again, be protected. Then we started to bring others into it. And that’s why I decided, early on, that
having experienced the run-up to 9/11, where data from one organization was not shared
with the others, and so intelligence dots were not connected, I decided that we were
going to establish a fusion cell inside of CIA that was going to have NSA and FBI there,
and I wanted people to be able to share as much as they could among each other. That fusion cell, that kept me very much informed
and was used to inform others. Gradually, as more people became familiar
with the intelligence that we had, the understandings that we had, the expertise that we had, the
experience of other Russian activities and elections, I think that picture started to
emerge for many people. Over time there was greater confidence on
the part of those who might not have been swimming in the data early on. But I saw that as growing over time. Certainly Jim Clapper and Jim Comey I think
were aligned, exactly aligned with me, as far as where we were in our estimates about
the Russian activities. MICHAEL KIRK – So talk to me about Gen. Bortnikov,
the phone call. This is a regularly scheduled phone call that
you would normally have anyway, but you decided, with the president’s permission, to add
this to the agenda. JOHN BRENNAN – Over the course of my tenure
at CIA, I became, I guess, much closer or had much more engagement with the head of
the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, with basically the head of their FBI, than I did with Mikhail
Fradkov, the head of the SVR, the CIA equivalent. I did a lot with Bortnikov on counterterrorism
information, engaged with him quite a bit, met with him a number of times. He, in fact, came to visit me at CIA headquarters,
and I had ongoing conversations with him about what was going on in Afghanistan as well as
Syria. And so on Aug. 4, it was a scheduled call
that I had with Mr. Bortnikov, at his request, to talk about the situation in Syria. I said to myself first, and then to the White
House: “There’s no way I can have a conversation with Mr. Bortnikov at this time, given our
confidence level about what the Russians were doing against our election, and not say a
word about it to him. I just think that that would not have been
appropriate.” So I spoke to the White House, and I said:
“I’m speaking to Mr. Bortnikov. We’re going to talk about Syria, but there
are two other things I want to talk to him about. One is I want to make sure that I hit him
upside the head once again about some of the harassing and even violent actions that the
FSB was responsible for in Russia, in Moscow in particular, against U.S. diplomats.” Time and time again, [then-Secretary of State]
John Kerry and I spoke about the need to push the Russians on this issue of the regular
harassment that U.S. diplomats and families faced in Moscow, so that was usually a part
of my ongoing talking points. But I also told the White House I wanted to
tell him about the Russian interference in our election, and I said—because there were
a lot of things that were public at that time, I said, “I’ve been watching very carefully
all of these reports about Russian interference in the election.” I told him that if they were doing this, this
would be a grave mistake; that it was going to roil the relations between the United States
and Russia for many years to come; that all Americans would be outraged over it, even
if the Russians were trying to advance the prospects of candidates that some Americans
were in favor of, because the American people take very seriously the importance of the
integrity and the freedom of our election system. Mr. Bortnikov denied it. I then came back to it and said, “This is
something that you need to take very seriously,” and he said he would relay it to Mr. Putin. And I know that Mr. Bortnikov, who works very
closely with Mr. Putin, would relay that to him immediately, because in past conversations,
I asked Mr. Bortnikov to pass messages to Mr. Putin, and I got a response within an
hour, so he would have immediate access to him. Mr. Bortnikov promised to do that. I didn’t hear back from him with Mr. Putin’s
reaction and response. But Mr. Bortnikov said they’d be willing
to work with either candidate who emerged victorious in the election. MICHAEL KIRK – But is it a surprise that you
didn’t hear back? That tells you something, doesn’t it? JOHN BRENNAN – Yeah. And when I spoke to him, I presumed he was
going to deny any interference. I presumed he was going to tell Mr. Putin,
but this was the first time that I think a senior U.S. official confronted the Russians. And when the director of CIA says very clearly
to the director of the FSB, “Cut it out,” I think that that certainly has resonance
then in the Kremlin. Then there were subsequent engagements between
the United States and Russia; President Obama confronted Mr. Putin; and then there were
the public statements. I ask myself now, as a result of those direct
engagements with them, did it give the Russians pause? Did they decide not to do some of the things
that they could have done? They continued to map the architecture of
the electoral infrastructure, looking at state systems. But we put them on notice. And did they then decide, “Hmm, let’s
not go all the way”? Yes, there were subsequent releases that we
saw from WikiLeaks, but some of the things that they could have done they didn’t do. And there’s a part of me that says, yeah,
those brushback pitches sent a clear signal to them, and I think they recognized that
this was a very important issue to the Obama administration. Maybe they didn’t have the same predictability
in terms of what our reaction would be. MICHAEL KIRK – Or appetite for whatever was
going to happen if they kept on staying at the banquet. It’s late August through September, where
it feels like inside the White House, and obviously you’re involved in this, there’s
a lot of talk about, so what should we do? How should we respond? … What was the range of —I don’t expect
you to be really, really specific, but what were the range of options available for the
president, and what did he finally decide to do? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, the options looked at
a variety of paths. One is, what do you do, and what do you say
directly to the Russians? That’s one. The second one is, what do you do and say
publicly, in terms of acknowledging to the American people what is going on? Third, what are some of the things that you
could do to try to rattle the Russians’ cage, maybe take some tangible steps, whether
it be symmetric or asymmetric? But then, I think overriding all of this was
the president—President Obama’s concern about not doing anything that was going to
become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Russians, which was to call into question
the integrity of the election, particularly since Mr. Trump quite blatantly said that
he was unsure if he was going to accept the results of the election. He was asked by journalist newscasters, and
I think he said something like, “We’ll see.” So the president, as president of the United
States, but also as the head of the Democratic Party, he insisted that we not do anything
that is going to, either in reality or in perception, be a thumb on the scale of the
November election. So we were very mindful of the responsibilities
to do everything possible to prevent the Russians from being successful in what they were trying
to do, but at the same time not to do anything that is even going to call further into question
the integrity of the election, because I could view some scenarios where there would be this
escalating concern, and then people would start to really wonder whether or not their
vote was going to count, and why would they vote, whatever? It was a very, very delicate line to walk. CIA and the intelligence community, law enforcement,
FBI, I think we recognized that we needed to be particularly careful in terms of not
doing anything that could cause there to be a greater disruption of the election. These were weighty decisions and long deliberations
and discussions, and we tossed things around. The statement that Jim Clapper and [then-Secretary
of Homeland Security] Jeh Johnson put out went through an arduous review process, including
the White House Situation Room, just trying to get the tone right, make sure the message
was right. Again, not having had a template that came
before us, we had to try to do the best we could. I think the president wanted to hear the full
range of options, which was the correct thing to do, and we looked at what those options
were. We looked at the potential efficacy of them
as well as the potential disruptive impact, and I think the decisions that were made are
now history. MICHAEL KIRK – …During this month, the FBI,
at least the way the press reports it, has uncovered in some way that the Russians are
also interested in the mechanics of the election. That feels like something that’s of a different
magnitude than propaganda or Infowars or whatever it is, that this is really serious. Does it affect the debate inside the White
House in September and late August? And in your own mind, does it change the magnitude
of how important this is, or did you already know that it was happening? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, the Russians will map
the architecture and the environment of their targets. It’s called operational preparation of the
environment, OPE. They do it for military purposes so that they
understand exactly what they can do, so when we saw them starting to look at state electoral
systems, I think the sense was that this gives them the opportunity to digest what those
systems look like and then to formulate options or opportunities that they might be able to
take advantage of if they wanted to actually do something against those voting electoral
systems. That’s where it’s very important for the
Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to understand what they were doing. I had a number of conversations, including
one-on-ones with Jeh Johnson as he was doing what he could to work with state officials
and to lend assistance to those who were trying to protect their electoral processes. MICHAEL KIRK – The way the story goes, he
calls lots of states. Many of them rebuff him, not interested. Keep the federal government out of our election
problem, whatever they say. Is that a surprise to you? JOHN BRENNAN – No. I think we understood that there was going
to be some resistance on the part of states. Again, I didn’t deal with any of the states. That’s not CIA’s mandate. I sought, in two ways, one gets back to the
Hamilton-Jefferson division about states’ rights and national rights. Secondly, some of those states were concerned
not just about the federal government’s interference in what they see as an inalienable
right of states, but also partisan politics I think started to swirl about, and wondering
whether or not an administration that is a Democratic administration trying to come into
states’ voting systems, electoral systems, whether there could be something up with that. MICHAEL KIRK – Was Johnson free to tell them
the magnitude of what the worry was? JOHN BRENNAN – Jeh Johnson tried to be as
clear as possible about the nature of the threat and the risks that were out there. But also, there was just so much in the public
domain at that point that anybody who thought that the Russians were not actively involved
in trying to interfere in the election was not reading the paper, watching television,
or using their common sense. MICHAEL KIRK – Well, the way the story goes,
you had had a similar experience up with Congress in your initial trek up there to talk to Gang
of Eight and others, that you were met with some partisan response and even serious doubt. … JOHN BRENNAN – In those briefings of Congress,
some of the individuals expressed concern that this was motivated by partisan interests
on the part of the administration. I took offense to that and told them that
this is an intelligence assessment; this is an intelligence matter, and I wanted to make
sure that they were informed, because the Gang of Eight responsibilities required them
to take this seriously. I told them that this in no way reflected
any type of partisan effort, so they understood that I was serious about it, certainly. MICHAEL KIRK – Even after you shared the intelligence? JOHN BRENNAN – I shared the intelligence with
the—yes. MICHAEL KIRK – So even after that, they still
think of it as a partisan issue? JOHN BRENNAN – Even though I had served in
intelligence for several decades, I think some people still saw me as the CIA director
appointed by a Democratic president, even though I had served six presidents, three
Democrat, three Republican. I reminded some of that fact that I take this
very seriously. I take my responsibilities seriously, and
I am very concerned about what the Russians are doing with the election. MICHAEL KIRK – You talked about the Oct. 7
release of Mr. Clapper’s—the DNI’s report, the three or four paragraphs. There was once a paragraph about Putin specifically
that gets dropped by the time it’s publicly issued. Do you know why? JOHN BRENNAN – We wanted to make sure that
the statement that came out was going to reflect as accurately as possible what it is that
we knew and what we assessed, but at the same time to make sure that we were able to protect
sources and methods. There were decisions made in terms of what
should be included and what should not be included, that reflected those dual concerns:
[be] accurate, but at the same time protect sources and methods. MICHAEL KIRK – So you were worried about a
source in some way, or a method in some way, being revealed if you tagged Putin with it. JOHN BRENNAN – I think the editing of that
statement reflected a shared interest in being as forthcoming as possible while at the same
time not jeopardizing our ability to continue to have insight into what the Russians might
be doing. MICHAEL KIRK – What a day that was. You know, that statement comes out at 3:30
in the afternoon, and within a half hour, the Access Hollywood crude remarks from the
president appear. And a half hour after that, there’s a WikiLeaks
dump of the John Podesta emails. What was happening that day for you, when
it went out, and then you watched all of that follow on? JOHN BRENNAN – The run-up to the election,
it seemed like every day there was breaking news. And yes, I was mindful of the other things
that were happening on that day, but as intelligence professionals, as the head of the CIA, needed
to make sure that you keep a trained eye on what it is that you need to do. Russian interference in the election was not
the only issue I was dealing with. I was dealing with a lot of other things on
the terrorism front and the Middle East front, North Korea. It’s just in some respects a typical day,
where there are a lot of things on the intelligence-national security front that are burning. But, at the same time, there are a lot of
other things that are maybe on the sidelines that distract the attention and focus of some
people from some of those national security matters. But I must say that I really felt that the
National Security Council of the Obama administration, at the highest levels, remained fixated on
this issue of Russian interference in the election, irrespective of the other news that
might be coming out. MICHAEL KIRK – … The other event that happens
in September, of course, the president goes to the G-20 and pulls President Putin aside. Obviously you were part of the briefing of
the president, of all the dimensions of all the things he’d have to talk to Putin about
if the occasion presented itself. What happened there? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, I think a picture tells
a thousand words. When you look at the image of Mr. Putin and
President Obama on the sidelines of that summit, I think President Obama’s face really conveys
a sense of deep concern and sending a message to Mr. Putin. We had talked about the importance of making
sure that President Obama seized that opportunity so that Mr. Putin had no misunderstanding
whatsoever. We were confident that Mr. Bortnikov relayed
the information that I did to Mr. Putin, but similarly, just the way I didn’t want to
pass up an opportunity with occasion with Bortnikov, I think the president wanted to
make sure that Mr. Putin understood the gravity of this, the seriousness with which President
Obama viewed it, and the need to cease and desist. MICHAEL KIRK – … On Oct. 7, when the statement
is finally released, there’s been a lot of talk and back-and-forth about the American
people need to know. They need to know something, some details. They need to know that you guys are all in
agreement about it. And at that moment, there it is, finally the
release, the justification, and it gets subsumed and carried into the vortex of the Donald
Trump—let’s not even characterize—crude behavior tape. Big loss from your point of view that it was
sort of taken over by that event? JOHN BRENNAN – You know, you can never predict
what’s going to happen when you release something like that. The news of the day continues to unfold. We wanted to make sure we got it out as quickly
as we could after the deliberation took place. And whether or not people took it seriously,
by then all the press, the media were covering the interference in the election, there was
a debate back and forth about whether or not it was needed or necessary to go out with
a statement like that. Or should it be harder-hitting or less, or
whatever? MICHAEL KIRK – There was a lot of back-and-forth
about the statement and about how strong the statement should be. JOHN BRENNAN – Once we decided on the language
of the statement, we wanted to make sure we were able to get it out quickly, so it was
released. We knew that it was going to get pickup in
the media, obviously. People were anticipating, I think, that the
administration was going to be saying something publicly. But then, when it was—it seemed to be overtaken,
in some respects, by the video and the audio of Mr. Trump’s comments, it—I don’t
know. I don’t want to say it was disappointing,
but it is a fact of life. That’s what happens in—certainly in Washington. You can never predict what other newsworthy
stories are going to be coming out at a time when you release a statement. But I think by then we were all convinced
that the American people were aware of this Russian interference. But we thought it was very, very important
to get on the record that this was certainly the considered judgment—in fact, unanimous
judgment about those activities. MICHAEL KIRK – It also felt to me, feels to
me as I look back on it, like the White House had pretty much decided, by Oct. 7: “Look,
we’ll deal with this after the election. Whatever we do, however forcefully we respond,
that response will follow Hillary Clinton’s election,” because almost everybody believed
that Hillary Clinton was going to win. JOHN BRENNAN – Well, in the run-up to the
election, I think the president always felt as though, if he needed to take more aggressive
action against Russia, he could. And he saw that there was going to be opportunities
before to do something if necessary, but as well afterward. It was, I think, determined that we didn’t
want to get into an escalatory cyber battle with the Russians, because there were options
that were considered, as far as the things that we could do in the cyber realm. But there is a question about, then, what
would the Russians have done to counter that, and if they were going to counter it, how
that could have further interfered in the election or undermined the credibility. MICHAEL KIRK – Is that in the realm of what
we were worried about, about the states and about getting actually inside the process,
the technical, the vote-gathering process? JOHN BRENNAN – Yeah. By October, the middle of October, we were
aware of what Russia was trying to do vis-à-vis the state systems. We knew that there were capabilities that
the Russians could have exercised, that would have raised even greater questions about the
credibility and integrity of the election. What we didn’t want to do was to take some
type of action that would have negligible or marginal impact on the Russians, but yet
trigger some type of Russian counteraction, which would have I think been quite disruptive
of the electoral system, and I think raised questions about the validity of the outcome. At this time, as everybody was watching the
polls, I think everybody was pretty convinced that Hillary Clinton was going to win the
election. I think the Russians were convinced of that,
[as were] I think most political observers, as well as officials in Washington. Looking back on it now, when I think if people
in Washington and the White House felt that there was a closer race, would they have done
things differently? I don’t know. That’s something that I think President
Obama would have to answer. I do think that the president tried to do
it in a manner that was going to be as unbiased and least disruptive as possible. When I saw the options that were available,
even if he thought that Mr. Trump was going to emerge the winner, I don’t think the
president would have opted for any of the scenarios that would have involved a U.S.
cyber response against Russia prior to the election. I just don’t think he would have done it. MICHAEL KIRK – Were all of you who held things
fairly closely and were getting lots of different kinds of intelligence, were you also aware
of the appearance of collusion by the Trump family, by [Jared] Kushner, by young Don Jr.,
the Russian banker, the Russian lawyer, the other things that seemed to be going on, Roger
Stone talking to Guccifer, and saying, you know, “Watch out, Podesta is next”? All of that, were you in on all of that as
well? JOHN BRENNAN – There were things that happened,
meetings that took place between individuals on the Russian side and on the U.S. side that
raised my concerns about collaboration related to the election. I didn’t know what was motivating some people,
but I certainly was concerned. And anything that we had that involved U.S.
persons, anything that the CIA collected or had information about involving U.S. persons,
we immediately shared it with the FBI, because it’s their responsibility to pull those
investigative threads. So I was aware, contemporaneously, of some
things that were going on, which again caused me to furrow my brow and say, “What’s this
all about?” But I didn’t follow it up. I was confident that the FBI would be able
to do its job. MICHAEL KIRK – Were there things that we don’t—did
you know things, and do you know things that we didn’t know? JOHN BRENNAN – CIA director always knows things
that others don’t know. MICHAEL KIRK – So there were more of these
events than we know now? JOHN BRENNAN – Anything that we uncovered,
that was relevant to the election and Russian interference, and anything especially that
involved U.S. persons or individuals associated with the Trump campaign, that information
was made available to the FBI. And it was FBI’s job then to follow up on
it. A lot of those investigative leads, if you
will, I don’t know what happened as a result, because that’s the FBI’s responsibility
and not CIA’s responsibility. MICHAEL KIRK – OK, so when we get to the day
of the election, what are you worrying about as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency
and the guy who’s read in on basically everything that’s happening? What are you watching for? What are you worried about? I’m not talking about in winners and losers,
but the process. JOHN BRENNAN – Well, in the days before the
election, there was constant interaction between the experts at CIA, FBI and NSA, making sure
that we shared with each other the latest insight into what might be happening and what
the Russians might be doing. We were monitoring and using our collection
capabilities to understand what the Russians might have up their sleeve at the 11th hour. I was kept informed by my people, and we were
very focused on making sure that any indicator of some type of disruptive activity on Election
Day was going to be uncovered, and therefore—and consequently shared. Again, in the life of a CIA director, you
have a dozen things that you’re focusing on, because the world doesn’t allow you just
to focus on one, so I was confident that my people would tell me if we saw anything that
the Russians might be doing on Election Day. MICHAEL KIRK – Was there any one single thing,
the hacking of the states, something like that, that really concerned you as we got
up to the zero hour? JOHN BRENNAN – There were concerns about could
the Russians do something with the voter registration rolls, make names disappear, replace some
things, and prevent some people from voting? Didn’t have to be the vote tallies itself. I was, as I was watching some of the returns
come in, I know that some of those returns are sent from the precincts to the state centers,
and they’re sent over the Internet. Is there going to be some type of action that
the Russians might take to prevent those tallies from being delivered? I didn’t know if the Russians were going
to do anything at all. I thought if they did that, it clearly would
be a sign that Putin had authorized an exceptionally, an unprecedented, aggressive assault against
this country that to me would have been tantamount to war, actually doing something against the
voters or the votes on Election Day. So I was wondering whether or not we’d see
that. MICHAEL KIRK – We’ve talked to lots of people
in Russia about what it was like in Moscow that day, what Putin’s response was. What was your response, Mr. Brennan, to the
election results? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, speaking as an individual
U.S. citizen, U.S. voter, I was surprised at the election results. But then, you know, it’s a momentary bit of
surprise, and then we kick in, as we always do, to make sure that we fulfill our responsibilities. I was then-President-elect Obama’s lead
for the intelligence transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration,
and I was so, so impressed by just what a great job the Bush administration did in terms
of welcoming us and making sure we were as well prepared as possible when the Obama administration
took over reins of government in January of 2009. President Obama had previously told us that
he wanted our transition effort to be as good, if not better, as the Bush team. So we had already worked up some things to
provide to the new incoming team, and the day after election met with the folks and
said, “OK, let’s be ready to give the individuals who are going to be anointed as
the part of the new administration the briefings that they needed, so at the meetings.” We had some of our best people pull together
materials, books, briefings for that. And we waited, and we waited, and we waited. No one really came knocking at our door, which
concerned me, because I knew that this was going to be an enormous, enormous climb for
the Trump team, because I really felt that they were probably more surprised than anybody
that they were elected. They were ill prepared for it. They were not ready. There was very, very sparse and limited interaction
between the incoming team and the outgoing team, particularly on the intelligence front. All the materials, all the briefings, all
the readiness that we had trying to emulate what the Bush administration did to such a
great extent, it really was not utilized by the new team, which was disappointing, because
I understand just how complex the role is for the incoming team, and how complex and
complicated and dangerous the world is, so I was very concerned that they were going
to take over on the 20th of January without the preparation that was needed. And I think that’s exactly what happened. MICHAEL KIRK – Did you, in the immediate aftermath
of Trump’s victory, worry that something untoward had happened to give him the victory? JOHN BRENNAN – I was very concerned that Mr.
Trump was, again, ill prepared for the job; that he didn’t have a good grasp of international
affairs, the domestic policy scene, the legislative process, U.S. law, intelligence capabilities. I had already engaged in some back-and-forth
publicly with Mr. Trump because of his disparaging remarks about the intelligence community. … I was very much hoping and believing that
Mr. Trump was going to learn on the job and grow into the position. But then, a couple days after he was inaugurated,
he showed up at CIA headquarters, and in front of our hallowed Memorial Wall, started to
talk politics, which I thought was very inappropriate and disgraceful in many ways. So yes, I was very concerned that we were
going to be in for a different type of administration, a different type of presidency. Maybe I was spoiled by the eight years of
President Obama, who I thought had the utmost integrity, utmost decency, as far as how he
treated other people, and also a tremendous intellect and understanding of the world and
our Constitution and our laws. … But I will say that, you know, I have
talked with many people in the Obama administration. We want the administration, the Trump administration,
to succeed. We want this president to be successful. We want this country to be strong. But I must say that our institutions of governance
are being tested. And Mr. Trump still doesn’t, in my view,
understand the solemn, the sacred obligations of being president of the United States. It’s not all about him; it’s about this
country, and he needs to, I think, adjust his mindset if he’s going to do what he
needs to do for the American people. MICHAEL KIRK – Let me go back one more thought
about the Election Day, post-Election Day. Did you believe, as a law enforcement, as
a national security expert, do you believe there was any possibility that the Trump team
colluded with the Russians on the election results? JOHN BRENNAN – I don’t know whether or not
there was any collaboration, collusion or conspiracy that took place between U.S. persons
and Russians related to the election, and I think it would be unfair for me to speculate
about individuals doing that. But I will say there were things that were
taking place that I believe required the FBI to investigate, to ensure that there was no
such collusion, collaboration or conspiracy between U.S. persons, including those associated
with the campaign, and Russia. The American people deserve to know. MICHAEL KIRK – Do you think they’re investigating
those things? JOHN BRENNAN – I have great confidence in
the FBI’s ability to carry out these investigations, and they are particularly adept and adroit
at pulling threads, especially on the financial front. I’ve been involved in many counterterrorism
investigations and counterintelligence investigations over the years, and pulling on those financial
threads frequently reveals very interesting relationships and acts of a criminal nature. That’s what the FBI’s job is, and that’s
what they’re very adroit at doing. So I have great confidence in their abilities. MICHAEL KIRK – During that period, from the
end of the thing until—from the Election Day to Thanksgiving, the way people in the
White House tell us, they were sort of reeling. But there was a sort of sense from the president,
“Let’s get all the ducks in a row about what to do about the hacking, about what to
do about Russia, about what the signals are.” We’ve heard John Kerry’s position. We’ve heard others’ positions. “Let’s get really strong. Let’s go after these guys. Let’s punish them. Let’s release his bank accounts.” Let’s do whatever the thoughts were at the
time. It eventually comes down to, on the 29th of
December, the sanctions, the expelling of 35 people, and the seizing or whatever of
the two houses as announced by the president from Hawaii. Were they strong enough? Were those sanctions strong enough, given
the magnitude of the incursion and the crime? JOHN BRENNAN – You know, those 10 weeks between
Election Day and Inauguration Day go very quickly. There’s just a lot to do. The president and others wanted to make sure
that we were able to take some actions against the Russians. This was long in coming, because we wanted
to take actions against the Russians for a lot of their harassment of U.S. officials,
so this was sort of a culmination of concerns along those lines. We knew that we were going to be out of office
on the 20th of January, and we knew that the next administration, the Trump administration
could undo some of the things that we did. The White House I think was keeping the Trump
team informed about the steps that we were considering, ongoing engagements with their
team. Were they strong enough? I don’t know. For things that would have been much more
strategic in impact and broader in scope, I think would have taken longer to implement
and would have required the incoming team to continue that effort, and we were very
uncertain whether or not the incoming team would do that. There was focus on what it is that we could
do in the short term that was going to send a clear signal, going to hurt. I can remember vividly the discussions that
we had in the Situation Room about how many Russian intelligence officers should be PNG’d
[persona non grata’d] and whether it should be just a small number or a larger number
or whatever. There was a pretty strong consensus that we
wanted to do as much as we could, because it was the right thing to do. And we didn’t know what the Trump administration
was going to do. Again, we were still puzzled by a lot of the
comments that Mr. Trump and others were making about Russia. They didn’t seem to be taking this concern
seriously. They didn’t seem to want to understand a
lot of the details of what it is that we knew, and they were a bit dismissive of the conclusions. We knew that we had to take action, so we
said, “Well, this is what is appropriate now.” One of the things that I think we took some
comfort in was we had a lot of engagement with the Congress during this period of time. I had a number of calls from senior members
of Congress who wanted to ensure that we did everything possible, first of all, to preserve
the information on the intelligence that we had about the interference, because they wanted
to take up this mantle in the new year. I said to a number of them that the institutions
of governance are really going to require the Congress and the congressional committees
to do what is right here. I said: “I don’t know what the Trump administration
is going to do when they come in.” I said: “I have my concerns about some of
the attitudes toward Russia and Mr. Putin. But I have confidence, even with all my battles
with Congress over the years, this is what Congress, as a co-equal branch of government,
really has an obligation to do: Do what is right for the American people, irrespective
of political party affiliation, irrespective of the views of an individual who happens
to be inhabiting the Oval Office.” So in my conversations with members of Congress
from both sides of the aisle, I had growing confidence that this was not going to end
with the end of the Obama administration, that this was going to continue. And I knew that Jim Comey was not going to
be out of office on Jan. 20. I have tremendous respect for Jim Comey, and
I knew that the FBI was going to do its work so that this would not be covered up. I think we see now, many months afterward,
this continues to percolate. The American people deserve answers, and Congress,
the FBI, Department of Justice will get us those answers, whether or not Mr. Trump wants
to hear those answers or deal with them or not. MICHAEL KIRK – The president makes the announcement
from Hawaii on the 29th. Were you sort of holding your breath about
which one of the people who worked for you, or how many people you worked for, were about
to be expelled from Russia, or worse? JOHN BRENNAN – I voted—well, I was very
supportive of throwing out as many Russians, even more if we could, as possible, because
I came to know what the Russians are up to, and I wanted as many Russian intelligence
officers out of this country as possible. There were people in CIA who were concerned
about that and advocated for fewer, because they were concerned that there was going to
be retaliatory steps taken against our diplomats in Moscow. I was of the view that the Russians were not
going to retaliate in kind. It was based on my assessment that they were
looking forward to the Trump administration taking over in Washington and that they didn’t
want to take these actions that would be disruptive in their minds, because they, I think, had
great hopes for a rapprochement of sorts between Moscow and Washington come Jan 20. MICHAEL KIRK – Little did you know that from
the Dominican Republic beach, Mike Flynn is making a call to Ambassador [Sergey] Kislyak,
assuring him of that actual fact, that he didn’t have to worry about the sanctions
and that Mr. Putin should hold his fire. JOHN BRENNAN – Again, I was not encouraged
by what I was seeing and hearing from the Trump team about their views toward Russia. I was not of a mind that they were going to
follow through with additional pressure on Russia once they came into office, and I think
that was borne out by the facts. MICHAEL KIRK – … We have to talk about the
Trump Tower meeting, where you guys go and talk to the president-elect, show him the
evidence, talk to him, talk turkey to him about what it really was. Can you take me there? Talk about at least what you were trying to
convey, and how that went. JOHN BRENNAN – We had a meeting with Mr. Trump
at Trump Tower. It was several hours long. We talked to him about what it is that we
knew and assessed. We talked about what the Russian objectives
were, what the capabilities are. It was a back-and-forth. But I’m not going to get into details of that
meeting. MICHAEL KIRK – Can you tell me how he was? What was he like when you went in? Was he different when it was over? JOHN BRENNAN – Mr. Trump was gracious. He welcomed us. He thanked us for our service. He listened. I would say that his graciousness and his
demeanor did not change from the beginning to the end of the conversation. So he was—I think he was at home in the
Trump Tower, and just, you know—he listened, because I think he felt as though he should. MICHAEL KIRK – But you don’t feel you changed
his mind? JOHN BRENNAN – From his public comments that
he made before the meeting at Trump Tower to the comments he made subsequent to that
briefing, I don’t think he changed his mind, or at least he didn’t change his public
attitude and his statements. What he says publicly, which tends to be rather
skeptical of the intelligence, and what he believes in his heart of hearts may be two
very different things. I think sometimes he talks because he feels
as though he has to say certain things in order to appeal to maybe his base or to others,
but I don’t know what he truly believes, or if he is truly dismissive of the intelligence. But he is obviously a rather deft politician,
who continues to do and say and tweet things because he believes that that’s a way to
convey messages that he wants conveyed to the American people. MICHAEL KIRK – Did you give him the full monty? Was it all that everything was at the hard
stuff? JOHN BRENNAN – We provided to him the briefing
that, as president-elect, he deserved to get. MICHAEL KIRK – Yeah? What does that mean? JOHN BRENNAN – It means there were a number
of other people in that room, so it wasn’t just the president-elect. There was members of his team, so therefore,
I had to take that into account. MICHAEL KIRK – I see. JOHN BRENNAN – And I made sure that he understood
the strength of our confidence in our assessments. But again, I was mindful of the environment
and the people there. But he should have come away with a very clear
understanding of just where James Clapper, Jim Comey, Mike Rogers and John Brennan came
out on these issues. There was no equivocation in our language,
and we were very direct and very, very clear in terms of what it is that we knew and assessed. MICHAEL KIRK – Of course Comey privately gives
him the Steele dossier information or talks about it or shows it to him. You obviously have seen the Steele dossier. What do you make of it? JOHN BRENNAN – The Intelligence Community
assessment did not take into account anything that was included in that dossier. That dossier had been circulating for quite
some time. It was certainly not a secret among Washington
journalists and reporters, but it was still unclear to us, and I think to Jim Comey, about
how much the president-elect was aware of this. Again, I defer to Jim Comey to explain and
describe exactly what he did in terms of any discussions he might have had with the president-elect. MICHAEL KIRK – … So we started with Vladimir
Putin in Ukraine. We went backward to Vladimir Putin as a KGB
officer in Dresden. We watched him grow up and become a man who,
out of a sense of grievance and probably revenge, exercises the full power of his office, apparently
to muck around in the American election. Why did he do it? In your mind, why did he do that? JOHN BRENNAN – I think he interfered in the
election because he could, and because he was determined to hurt Hillary Clinton, who
he believed was going to become president. I believe he wanted her to be inaugurated
at a time when she was going to be bloodied a bit by these exposures. I do think that he probably had other things
planned, as far as if she were elected, both before the inauguration and afterward. One of his principal objectives has been to
drive a wedge between the United States and Europe as a way to get sanctions relief, because
those sanctions are hurting the Russian economy, and it’s one of Mr. Putin’s highest priorities. I do believe that he was going to try to use
Russian intelligence services to further sow suspicion between European capitals and Washington
under a Hillary Clinton presidency, and I am pretty confident that the Russians probably
had a few things up their sleeves that would be used to try to discredit the Clinton presidency. Again, he sees things in zero-sum fashion. If the U.S. president or the U.S. is diminished
in the eyes of the world in any way, or it’s hurt, it just benefits Russia. That’s why, when I think about how Mr. Putin
feels now about developments in the United States, when he sees that Mr. Trump has been
hobbled in many respects by this investigation, and it has hurt Mr. Trump’s ability to legislate,
to focus on a lot of national security and domestic policy matters and that there is
growing tension in Washington over this issue, to me, I think Mr. Putin sees this as a tremendous
success, because if the United States is not able to exercise the full weight of its capabilities
internationally, Russia benefits. And also, given Mr. Trump’s view about the
U.S. role in the world, and from his inaugural address to other comments about the U.S. is
first, first, first, I think it has raised questions in the minds of a number of our
allies and partners as well as in the minds of our adversaries about U.S. taking a step
back from that world stage, which is, I think, unnerving to a lot of our partners around
the world, which again, Mr. Putin sees as beneficial to Moscow. I don’t know whether or not Russian interference
on our election had influence on a single vote. I have no idea. That was not our responsibility to do, and
I don’t know. But when I look at the aftermath, I think
Mr. Putin is fairly—is very content in terms of the deleterious impact it’s had on the
U.S. politically and internationally. Now, the U.S.-Russian relationship has not
gotten on a better track after the election. So from that perspective, I think Mr. Putin
has been frustrated. But I think overall he sees it as a net plus
in terms of what he did in an election and how it has consumed U.S. politics and the
U.S. public in many respects. Given that this is a story that’s still
playing out, I think Mr. Putin is very comfortable with his decision to authorize this interference. JIM GILMORE – … Following up on the Flynn
story, you tell the beginning of the story. Are there lessons learned from how that came
down, the fact that he was eventually fired, but not until it came out in The Washington
Post the way the White House, the Obama White House viewed that story. Anything that you came away from on the Flynn
story that helps sum it up and sort of lessons learned? JOHN BRENNAN – I think one of the real lessons
learned is that, for any incoming administration, the initial team you put together, even before
you take office, you really need to make sure that these are individuals of tremendous integrity
and individuals that the president-elect is comfortable with sharing the most sensitive
national security information. Even though some people may have served previously
in government, or even in the military, there needs to be a very, very thorough vetting
process. The Obama team had a very thorough vetting
process. Everybody had to meet the standards so that
you would have access to top-secret information, but also that you didn’t have any conflicts
of interest or ethical issues that would be disqualifying. That’s why I think that the Trump team was
a bit of a pickup game, quite frankly. It’s—again, understandably, because they
were surprised. They didn’t think they were going to win. Then, when all of a sudden they were faced
with the daunting task of putting together a team, things happened very quickly and rapidly,
and I think there was a looseness there that hurt us. There were people who came in and went very
quickly, that there should have been greater scrutiny and greater effort to ensure that
the people that were going to be brought in to the tent early on were going to be able
to stay there, and that they met the requirements of such high office. DAVID HOFFMAN – When you think back about
the aggressive efforts that were made in 2016, is the adversary here the opposing intelligence
services, in other words, the SVR and GRU? Or was there any evidence or did you have
a theory that also essentially there are non-state actors, maybe under the direction of the state? You’ve been very clear that you felt Mr.
Putin would have approved this, but how clear do you feel is the chain of the actual actors
who carried it out? Does it go to the other services, or is it
a little more ambiguous? JOHN BRENNAN – Well, I think right now, in
the cyber realm, a lot of intelligence services are building up indigenous capabilities, and
they’re quite formidable, especially when you’re talking about the Russians and the
Chinese. But increasingly, these intelligence services
contract out a lot of the work, for a variety of reasons. One is that there’s just tremendous capabilities
of these pop-up companies and firms and groups that can deploy malware and ransomware and
whatever else. There’s tremendous expertise and capability
in the private sector, including in the Russian private sector, that the Russian intelligence
services take advantage of. But secondly, intelligence services, nation-states,
want to try to cover their tracks, and from a forensic standpoint, they want to have some
distance between the actual forensics of some type of attack and the nation-state. Therefore, contracting out some of these activities
allows them to take advantage of the expertise that resides out there, but also to make it
more difficult for attribution to be made and to see a nation-state behind these actions. JIM GILMORE – Let me ask one more thing. MICHAEL KIRK – (I’m not sure.) The Comey firing. What was your reaction to the Comey firing? JOHN BRENNAN – When I heard that Jim Comey
was summarily dismissed, first of all, I thought it was done in an exceptionally disrespectful
way. Jim Comey has given much of his life to keep
this country safe and strong, did an outstanding job as the director of the FBI, and to be
treated that way I think really sent shockwaves to a number of people, and especially at the
FBI. I think it showed the disdain that Mr. Trump
has for professionals and the FBI. I was also very disturbed, because it was
clear that Mr. Trump was dismayed and upset over Mr. Comey’s relentless pursuit of the
truth. And I wonder why Mr. Trump is concerned about
the uncovering of the truth if there’s nothing to hide there. The FBI does a great job. It’s diligent. It’s patient. But it finds the truth. So I was concerned about what does this really
reflect on the part of Mr. Trump? Why is he trying to prevent the truth from
coming out? Why is he trying to prevent the FBI from doing
its duty? But I am confident that the FBI will continue
to do its work with even greater focused momentum as a result of this firing.


  • Mr Stiel says:

    Is there some kind of new volume limit? I feel like a lot of online videos are wayyyy to quiet recently. I have this on full volume and can barely hear it with my heater on in the same room.

  • Stanley Tate says:

    Putin was the orange clown 🤡 manager. He bargained with Trump to run if Trump wanted to build there.Putin has compromised our commander in chief

  • Mazhar Soufi says:

    looooooove John!!

  • Mazhar Soufi says:

    John is very smart= intelligent hence the head of the intelligence

  • Samuel Adams says:

    arrest the president

  • Daniel HAGEE says:

    Johnny charter is Freddy on The Godfather

  • Cecil Treadwell says:

    Putin is a POWER PIG. He is also a POWER THUG. Also a murderer several times over. And so is Mohammed bin Salman of Saudia Arabia. Jamaal Khashoggi was murdered with the knowledge of and the direction of Mohammed bin Salman. The insidious international TIGER SQUAD was set in motion to murder Khashoggi. They have been abducting, interrogating, torturing, and murdering individuals all over the world. Putin has been doing so for decades as well. They are kindred murderous thugs using Pegasus and other cell phone and computer internet surveillance tools.

  • The Joy of Cucking says:

    I think he's wearing a ""What Would Jesus Do"" bracelet

  • Rudegal Rogue says:

    Putin study people's behavior like Jim Jones (cult leader) how to manipulate weak and insecure ppl

  • Matthew Battles says:

    53:50 – Freudian…

  • andre8860 says:


  • andre8860 says:


  • shadowcat 10110 says:

    When I awoke on election morning and saw that Trump won I cried

  • Andrew Russell says:

    my goodness this man is confident about his thoughts and position. I am not sure what if anything the Obama administration did about the Ukraine invasion. Oh that's right toothless sanctions that meant nothing to Putin. Mr. Brennan talking about bullies at the schoolyard hmmm.

  • shadowcat 10110 says:

    Inappropriate and disgraceful …. that's about … institutions being tested …..

  • Art Hernandez says:

    I'm pleased the Putin Files program is being viewed so often.

  • Jocko Adams says:

    I guess these "Intelligence" types never took into account that the Russian meddling to damage Clinton was just half of it. It didn't matter who won, they would both be damaged. Its become clear from the reporting they took efforts to stage rallies both supporting and against Trump since inauguration. They've continued to seek to exacerbate our country's problems of race, sexism, etc. This bitter partisanship and the belief, despite any evidence as of yet, that Trump was somehow a complicit partner in Russia's meddling is the ultimate masterstroke. Its a head fake where half the people still hate and distrust the President based upon this unproven myth of "collusion" and it serves their interests in weakening and dividing our country.

  • Contrastarian Contrastarian says:

    Spot the wahabit.

  • Lucky Me says:

    Wow, I am impressed by Mr Brennan professionalism and intelligence …. great questions and unbelievable answers about what is so obvious now…We have so many heroes at the FBI, the CIA and all the intelligence divisions I admired the patriotism of Mr Comey, he safe America not accepting the corrupted mafia conexión of the orange witch…he is a disgrace 😡
    Thank you so much to our American heroes !!!

  • Michael Brogan says:

    this is how r leaders speak, concise, relevant, understandable. fuck trump

  • Aynde Faulkner says:

    lol.. what a JACKASS… any IDIOT sees thru this overly dramatized BS… "utmost integrity".. lol… unhinged.
    Let's pull your threads see where they lead.

  • Nevera Onyourlifemana says:

    John Kelly for President. (He'd have to run as an Independent.)

  • Herald Lepps says:

    Ask Brennan if he is a wahhabis muslim you leftist prick bastards. This mother fucker should not hold any position of power, but you leftists will lick his shoes.

  • Elizabeth Nash says:

    Y'all should check out the EXCELLENT 3 part documentary that ABC (Australian Public Broadcasting) has done on the whole 'Trump/Putin' issue. Amazing reporting. Interviews with intelligence from Europe and places abroad, that we don't get here in the US. I was blown away. It's here on youtube, just search on Trump Putin ABC and you'll find it. You will be blown away.

  • steve cook says:

    Dear Mr. President
    OK, Don here is what you should do to get out of this fake witch hunt, Pretend to have a stroke or PTSD, something that would leave you without speech. OK! then set up a phony hospital situation at trump tower the way Pablo Escobar did in Columbia. You can continue to run the business as usual while your lawyers tie up all the cases against you your wife and the kids. You shouldn't take any money from Putin for services rendered yet, He's a good guy and will hold the money for you till things cool off. OK? if I come up with any more ideas to help you out of this I will post it.

  • F E says:

    Wow, what an interview. This dude and Comey are real American patriots they do it not for democratic or Republican Party thing but for America. These dudes are the real representatives of the American people. Politicians really need to get their head out of the gutter and get back to work…

  • forty two says:

    Do you suppose Putin would be willing to sell Siberia? We( the U.S.) will offer a fair price. We’ll even pay in Euros if he likes. What do you think?

  • Carpe Diem Arts says:

    Wish I had enough data to watch this vid

  • MamaBook says:

    too many movies about Putin lately. He probably love it. He is popularist.

  • Jude Blanch says:

    In 1976, John Brennan voted for Communist Party candidate Gus Hall in the presidential election why would he not lie? Lets investigate DNC + Clintons collaboration with Putin. Brennan + Clapper is covering it up.

  • Billy Idol says:

    revoking your clearance realy shut your traitor ass up

  • Billy Idol says:

    trump has done way more for ukraine than that muzzlim terrorist barry hussein or this fake news fool, fukin cowards gave it away

  • K Spear says:

    Wow, what an interview. This dude and Comey are real American Traitors. Many more of them in the deep state. All should face a firing squad.

  • K Spear says:

    If it's on PBS you KNOW it's BS.

  • joe r. says:

    Anybody taking bets that Putin has watched this interview,maybe even more than once?

  • Isaac Kwok says:

    B. B.

  • Michael Richardson says:

    Another corrupt puppet! This guy should be in prison!

  • TimEngle says:

    John Brennan on record said, “I voted for the Communist Party with Gus Hall.” In my book, he’s a traitor.
    Definition of traitor. 1 : one who betrays another's trust or is false to an obligation or duty. 2 : one who commits treason.
    Fuck this guy. He’s Anti-American!

  • RONS DOGG says:


  • David COLE says:

    I can't wait to see this communist quick piece of s*** anti-American c******* to go to prison looking to fry his ass for high treason I cannot wait John Brennan you're f**** scumbag

  • Geoff Dein says:

    Brennan, the instigator of Ukraine points the finger at Putin This clown just can’t keep his mouth shut. This isn’t anti Putin, this is his “six ways by Tuesday” manoeuvre. Paid to professionally meddle he has done just that. An interview with the press? Secret service people don’t interview anyone. They certainly don’t disclose national secrets
    This is a claw for fame
    This is his best to establish the depth and legitimacy of the anti Russian stance.
    Remember Putin is an anti globalist
    Trump is an anti globalist
    This “military industrial machine” is a globalist and a war monger.
    I have taken a grain of salt to listen his “in depth interview”, his attempt to underpin the Russian narrative as the excuse for an utterly incompetent performance by presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Trump didn’t win. Clinton lost in massive style because of her performance. This chap forgets, the American people are the ones that actually voted Trump into the Presidential office. This chap is very pro Clinton. There was massive money in it with the uranium deal etc. Russia loved Clinton. She sold America’s secrets and it’s defence. There was no incentive for Russia to vote her out.
    Now let’s talk about America’s meddling in other nations elections……😂😂😂😂😂. Hypocrites

  • Spring Lamb says:


  • Shawn Michael Wallin Thee Sire Royale Crowned King says:

    Guilty as publicly charged worldwide and most definitely all across America.
    Full legal public dislosure.
    Warrants issued automatically immediately.
    Bankrupt people do not legally own all that from public funds. Felony fraud felony theft murder of a public official and citizens from russian funding at the time and sold land property to these criminal fugitive foreigners that are known russian spies is automatic immediate treasonous traitor spys involved and as accomplices must die under law for destruction of America and killing its citizens then selling there land in mutiny elections fraud treasonous financials definitely hang from a tree under law for treasonous criminal fugitive land sales not authorized. Right now all will be arrested all of them trump trumps accomplices including all illegitimate imposter criminal fugitive american public offices ranks titles and corporation's are void and nulled and to be seized as such liars frauds thieves killers murders in file on file.They all knew the whole time and did nothing being there directly involved and as accomplices is a violation of law that removes them all right now.
    Russians with financial tracking and American financial tracking also shows paid off russian american political paid agent's of Russia is valid just ask russia where there money went to known murder charges theft charges mutiny elections fraud as treasonously traitor spying mutiny elections fraud funded evaded harbored terrorist murder charges genocide criminals not fit for presidency fully funded business dealings and elections funded known to Trump's Bush's Obama's election and Clinton's elections.
    You lose all of you.
    I have the legal right duty and responsibility to terminate eradicted abolish all governments all government all agency's all government agent's all businesses all corporations all law enforcement all military all public offices ranks and titles with or without cause as I see fit under law under ethics under constitution is terminated is defunded is removed is eradicted is abolished.
    All are illegitimate criminal fugitive imposters whom are not legally recognized by me the citizens whom have all final say not you is legal ethical constitutional fact.
    Put the cuffs on all of them now you have no legal choice and no legal say whatsoever.
    Its not an opinion under legal definition ethical defintion under constitutional definitions Trump and Trump's accomplices is in no way any public office rank or title or corporation for that matter after there crimes of premeditated 1st degree murder charges theft charges fraud charges felony false misleading reporting mutiny elections fraud bankrupty fraud national security violations as a known treasonous scandalous corrupted known criminal fugitive crime boss with actual factual conspiracy to commit murder fraud and trillions of theft charges billions of fraud cases and millions on file of millions of murder charges not authorized by congress since early 90's to today is known is on file evaded funded and harbored known crimes and criminals not authorized in our public offices and corporation's is a blantant violation of law that clearly already removed these criminal fugitives in our corporations public offices no more.
    Legal call to action remove and arrest them all then today and all too come.
    Murder charges Trump and Trump's accomplices do not expire and neither fo national security violations of your crimes and criminals you clearly are is legal fact.
    I have final say not you not your criminals.
    Your in my office's corporations no more its legally over along time ago when you funded Clinton's murders and you stated they like my money.
    Your under arrest Trump Trump's accomplices so is the Clinton's Bush's Obama's and Trump's.
    Justice and American law will and shall be fully served on these terrorist murdering lying cheating corrupted scandalous thieves and frauds do not make you a president stupid criminal fuck faces.
    100% Games Over.
    Shawnee Presidencies
    Shawn Michael Wallin We The People Presidency
    Sire Royale Crowned King of all King's Shawn Michael Wallin
    I got this stupid bitches

  • Sebastian Fibes says:

    The president of the communist party of America.

  • ohio skane says:

    This guy's security clearance got cut, but Ivanka and Jared have them!!!

  • Sabisch TruePain says:

    USA is the new Russia

  • Sonny in Phoenix says:

    lol cia" rats always look nervous when on camera, geez I wonder why" lol he needs to tuck in that chin

  • L W says:

    Brennan tortured people, seriously?

  • Lynn Tiscione says:

    Jack Tiscione update 3/28/19 ……Mueller report: No indictments…Rand Paul: it was B R E N N A N who insisted on having false Steele dossier included…Hang Brennan the bastard

  • Lynn Tiscione says:

    4/25/19 Update: Joe DiGenova.."…there are going to be grand jurys..there are going to be indictments…John Brennan isn't going to need 1 lawyer..He'll need 5 lawyers…."

  • Impedancenetwork says:

    Now after the Mueller report is out we know the truth. The whole investigation into the Trump collusion narrative was a sham. And this dick, John Brennan turns out lied to congress. Read the Mueller report, watch all the related congressional hearings, then come back and watch this video. The FBI, Justice Department and intelligence agencies thought they could elect their own president. Here are the 25 people that were either fired, demoted or resigned after the Justice Departments internal investigation into the FBI handling of the investigation revealed unethical or illegal activity.
    James Comey, director (fired)
    Andrew McCabe, deputy director (fired)
    Peter Strzok, counterintelligence expert (fired)
    Lisa Page, attorney (demoted; resigned)
    James Rybicki, chief of staff (resigned)
    James Baker, general counsel (resigned)
    Mike Kortan, assistant director for public affairs (resigned)
    Josh Campbell, special assistant to James Comey (resigned)
    James Turgal, executive assistant director (resigned)
    Greg Bower, assistant director for office of congressional affairs (resigned)
    Michael Steinbach, executive assistant director (resigned)
    John Giacalone, executive assistant director (resigned)

    DOJ Departures:

    Sally Yates, deputy attorney general (fired)
    Bruce Ohr, associate deputy attorney general (twice demoted)
    David Laufman, counterintelligence chief (resigned)
    Rachel Brand, deputy attorney general (resigned)
    Trisha Beth Anderson, office of legal counsel for FBI (demoted or reassigned*)
    John P. Carlin, assistant attorney general (resigned)
    Peter Kadzik, assistant attorney general, congressional liaison (resigned)
    Mary McCord, acting assistant attorney general (resigned)
    Matthew Axelrod, principal assistant to deputy attorney general (resigned)
    Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney, SDNY (fired along with 45 other U.S. Attorneys)
    Sharon McGowan, civil rights division (resigned)
    Diana Flynn, litigation director for LGBTQ civil rights (resigned)
    Vanita Gupta, civil rights division (resigned)
    Joel McElvain, assistant branch director of the civil division (resigned)

  • William Law says:

    Brennan is a proven liar and part of a US deep state which has colluded with jihadi cut throats for decades. But I see his cheerleaders are out in force, below.

  • William Law says:

    The US loved Russia when Yeltsin was in charge. Remember? What do you think made them change their mind when Vladimir Putin was elected?

    Well, I'll tell you.

    Vladimir Putin started to jail the oligarchs (mafia bosses) who had been siphoning billions out of the country. And those Oligarchs were America's guys. They were the ones who colluded with American 'experts' sent to 'teach' Russians how to be good capitalists after the fall of the Soviet Union.

    And of course, the transition to good capitalism typically entails lines of people queueing up in the street to buy the last loaf from an empty shelf. That's what capitalism did for Russia under Yeltsin. The people went hungry and the mafia (America's friends) became obscenely wealthy and took their stolen money to New York, London and Tel Aviv.

    This pattern has been repeated around the world so often that it takes a special kind of stupid not to notice it. There's something weirdly pathological about Western Russophobia. It's a sickness.

  • Sunny Wakefield says:


  • m beginization says:

    It looks like he was working for russia, he is blaming Trump for Obamas weakness with his reset

  • John Dillon says:

    Brennan is like giddy when he speaks of Putin, he has like an admiration for him. Once a Commie always a Commie huh Brennan?

  • Sean Clark says:


  • TheLoyalOfficer says:

    How about Obama attacking Libya and lying to Putin's face and violating a UN Security Council resolution?

  • STAR CLIPSE says:

    Brennan, youre going to prison, scumbag !!

  • Scooby Doo says:

    John Brennan, a true American traitor.

  • sonny corbi says:


  • Blake Hofmeister says:

    This traitor piece of shit is going to rot in jail. And he was lying through his teeth in this whole interview. Hang this guy from a tree on the White House lawn.

  • chuck fults says:

    Brennan, This baptized Practising Muslim WILL BE brought out as the leaker terrorist TRAITOR he is ! TAKE THIS ASSHOLE DOWN William Barr PLEASE before it's too late!

  • george cushing says:

    LIE= Clinton's &hussien sold ukriane to putin reset….soros overthrew it held torch marches just like Charlottesville same tiki TORCHES &everything

  • Richard says:

    As he describes how Putin used Russian Intelligence Services to influence the 2016 US elections, he is probably repressing thoughts about how he facilitated the same type of activity under the Obama administration in the Ukraine, Russia, Israel, and of course the United States.

  • Jaso Foo says:

    Brennan is a coward ! A traitor to the American people , people voted and trump won ! This coward is worst than Pinocchio ! Total coup attempt to lie and slander a sitting president !

  • Sixpacjack says:


  • FonkyHonky says:

    Putin: Orthodox Christian

    CIA Brennan: Cave Roach

    Here comes RAID

  • Robert W Norris II says:

    ¡Rule uno!

  • TheReal Flex says:

    Brennan is the epitome of waste within the IC. He should be locked up for his crimes IMHO. Facts are facts. Brennan is the worst I've ever experienced. Shameful man.

  • Mark Mcgwires Backne says:

    Brennan is a scumbag.

  • Joshua Ricke says:

    If the cia points the figure they did it.mrs clinton is far more of a crook than putin will ever be.

  • Bill Spencer says:

    This is great stuff . . . I've never laughed so hard . . . the guy's a nutcase.

  • Michael Martinez says:

    I don't believe a word out of this guy's mouth. Liar.

  • Ramniv DC says:

    John Brennan, you must tell the truth, you are under the influence of the deep state. The Deep State is crumbling down . . . and you know that . . . are you dreaming . . .

  • Jonas Dauerbrenner says:

    comes across like a real patriot.. good man

  • Your Highness says:

    Shoulod be titled The Israel Files:John Brennan. They stand for the most to gain and have the ability via Mossad to make it look like the Russians.

  • Mary-Ellen Wayne says:

    Mr. Brennan's use of the word/musical term "crescendo" at approximately the 12:12 mark/timestamp of this FRONTLINE PBS televised interview video that is posted on YouTube is awesome.

  • Mary-Ellen Wayne says:

    At the 31:35 mark, or very close to that point: "green light".

    The lead single "Green Light" by New Zealand teen alternative sensation Lorde is ringing a bell here, from her 2017 sophmore album/LP release Melodrama.

  • Mary-Ellen Wayne says:

    "but it was a very delicate line to walk".

    "Delicate" by Taylor Swift, from the album reputation (2017).

  • Al Swann says:

    He's starting the obvious. The West is pussified. We don't fight dictators anymore, we fight over which bathroom to use. Obama was just a symptom, not the problem.

  • mongol tyrant says:

    John Brennan represents everything that is despicable about Amerikwa. Lying seditious treasonous deep state sack of shit who believes that the US should wage constant war and has the right to meddle in every nation's affairs. They picked that turd to talk about "foreign meddling". US has no free press, its media is more one sided than North Korea's

  • Deebo NinerNation says:

    What a traitor

  • mark tovell says:

    He can't even bring himself to mention Trumps name. Ha, suck it up, buttercup.

  • solarmanhawaii says:

    What a bunch of BS !

  • Рафаил Курмаев says:

    So the whole interview is just Trump bashing of the Obama/Clinton supporter. Circus left, but clowns stayed, as Russians put it.

  • Michele Gramz says:

    Traitorous sellout

  • HathawayRose says:

    This channel is just a cesspool of propaganda. The cold war ended thirty years ago…I guess the news hasn't reached the US yet.

  • Pale Zombie says:

    Brennan is a great man. Even as a Republican, I would vote for him…and I say that as a Democrat.

  • rahul ramakrishnan says:

    Why is US so obsessed with Putin???

  • Tommy Sullivan says:

    Russia did spy.

  • benz500r says:

    He knows a lot, but he pretends to be an expert on Putin which is far from truth.

  • Nami Dehya says:

    How do people with such low IQ ascend to prominence and hold the highest offices of State? Rhetorical. Listening to this person one almost feel nauseous. What a creep?

  • Bruce Farley says:

    Just less than minutes in an seriously unimpressed already – this guy John doesn’t even know what THE WEST is, and one thing I can’t stand is lies.

  • EJ160E says:

    Arrest, indict and execute this subhuman jihadist gorilla

  • Tb Thomas says:

    I'm recording these segments to insure I always have my own record of what took place following Donald Trump's decision to run for President. And in spite of the fact that (to my surprise) Trump accomplished so many good things during his first term, history will show his greatest accomplishment has, and will always be, the exposure of a deeply entrenched, self-appointed and self-perpetuating cabal of craven usurpers of public authority, who use those authorities, first and foremost, for their own self-enrichment.

    There really is no antidote to the sense of disgust I feel now, when I see people like John Brennan, and his ilk, wallowing in their immutable belief in their own intellectual and ideological superiority.

  • Phil V says:

    I chuckle everytime someone says "Trump knows what he's doing". The guy has an infant brain. Unfortunately his supporters have been bombarded with reports about him and him tweeting "fake news". They don't see how much of a egotistic, a self-entitled moron he is. The mere fact that this guy has nuclear codes is unfathomable. The problem is not him: he's too dumb to know better. It's the ones who put him in.

  • Cee Jay Black says:

    GITMO. I also downloaded. Satan is "articulate", too.

  • Hannibal Rex says:

    You can disregard everything Brennan says regarding Russia. The CIAs actions in 2015-2017 centered around boosting Hillary Clinton into the whitehouse and using the “Russian collusion” narrative to take down Donald Trump.

  • Russian Bot says:

    Liar!!!!! Traitor!!! Can't wait to see you hang from your neck until dead.

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