HARI SREENIVASAN: The issue of Russian interference in last year’s election, and what the Trump campaign knew or didn’t know about it, was front and center on Capitol Hill again today.
Two of the nation’s top intelligence officials and a former CIA director all testified.
Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has our report.
MARGARET WARNER: Top intelligence chiefs, past and present, were the featured attractions on Capitol Hill today.
Former CIA Director John Brennan went spoke at a House Intelligence Committee hearing, part of its ongoing investigation into how Russia meddled in the U.S. election.
JOHN BRENNAN, Former CIA Director: It should be clear to everyone that Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 presidential election process and that they undertook these activities despite our strong protests and explicit warning that they not do so.
MARGARET WARNER: Separately, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, spoke at a Senate Armed Services Committee on worldwide threats.
His appearance coincided with a Washington Post reported that President Trump had asked Coats and Admiral Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, to — quote — “help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government.”
The Post says both men deemed the request inappropriate and refused to comply. Coats would not discuss the matter today.
DAN COATS, U.S. National Intelligence Director: On this topic, as well as other topics, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.
MARGARET WARNER: On the broader issue of Russia’s foreign election activity, DNI Coats said he’s seen evidence of Moscow meddling in campaigns this year in France, Germany and the U.K.
Discussing last year’s U.S. election, ex-CIA Chief Brennan said he had worried about the contacts that U.S. intelligence detected Russian officials were having with Trump associates.
JOHN BRENNAN: I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals.
REP. TREY GOWDY, R-S.C.: It’s a really simple question.
MARGARET WARNER: Brennan was pressed by Republican Trey Gowdy of South Carolina on whether actual collusion took place.
JOHN BRENNAN: I don’t know whether or not such collusion — and that’s your term — such collusion existed. I don’t know.
But I know that there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether or not U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials.
MARGARET WARNER: Brennan also added an ominous warning.
JOHN BRENNAN: The Russians are watching very carefully what’s going on in Washington right now, and they will try to exploit it for their own purposes.
MARGARET WARNER: Late last year, the Obama administration ordered sanctions on Russian spy agencies over the election meddling. Two Russian compounds outside Washington were closed, and 35 diplomats were expelled.
The Washington Post reported that then Trump adviser Michael Flynn urged the Russian ambassador not to overreact. And, in fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow wouldn’t retaliate, a move Mr. Trump hailed.
But in a tweet today, the Russian Embassy, unless its diplomatic property is returned, Russia will — quote — “have to take countermeasures.”
Meanwhile, questions continue about the president’s reported sharing of classified information with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office meeting two weeks ago. Dan Coats said today he has not discussed the issue with the president. Brennan said, if such information is to be shared, it’s typically done through intelligence channels, not spontaneously to visiting officials.
For its part, the White House said today’s hearings prove — quote — “There is still no evidence of any Russia-Trump campaign collusion.”
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Margaret Warner.