In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, former CIA Director John Brennan refused to answer a question in an unclassified setting about whether the Russians possess damaging information on Hillary Clinton that was not revealed during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Brennan further testified that, in his assessment, the Russians favored Donald Trump over Clinton largely because they despised Clinton and would generally prefer dealing with a businessman.
This is a far cry from the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that the Russians possessed damaging information on Trump. Brennan did not even imply that this was the case. Indeed, the discussion about the Russians potentially holding negative information on a politician centered around Clinton.
The exchange came after Brennan made his assessment about the Russians hoping for a businessman to lead the U.S. government, explaining that Moscow “in the past had – had some good relations with businessmen who happened to elevate into positions of government authority” and Russia believed it was easier from a negotiating standpoint to deal with a businessman.
This prompted Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla) to ask Brennan whether he found in his review of the evidence that there was “more damaging evidence of Secretary Clinton that was not revealed?”
“And if it wasn’t revealed, what does that say about their – the Russian ability to be actually rooting for her to win?” he asked.
Brennan replied: “Well, yeah, we can talk about it in closed, but, as I said, I think that they anticipated that Secretary Clinton was going to win the election. And so they – I believe that they tried to damage and bloody her before the election.”
“But also, I would have anticipated that, had she been elected, that their efforts to denigrate her and hurt her would have continued during her presidency. So if they did collect more information about her that they did not release, I think they were probably husbanding it for a – another day.”
Brennan was talking hypothetically about the Russians “husbanding” information on Clinton for “another day” if they did indeed collect any such information.
Later in the hearing, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) returned to the matter and asked for a clear “yes or no” answer as to whether the CIA had knowledge of the Russians holding damaging information on Clinton.
Gowdy asked: “Congressman Rooney and you were discussing, generally, the motive and I think it is – let’s just assume it’s a given that the Russians did not like Secretary Clinton – did not like President Obama, for that matter – and desired negative things for her.
“But they also thought she was going to win. Was it your testimony that all of the information stolen was not publicly disseminated?”
The exchange continued:
BRENNAN: No. I said, if they had collected additional information, as I think was implied, that the – the effort to try to further hurt her if she became president – that information – any type of derogatory information about her could have been husbanded for post-election period.
GOWDY: All right. But do you know if negative information was husbanded, to use your word, and not disseminated?
BRENNAN: Again, I – I – I think that would be inappropriate to talk about in an – in an open session like this.
GOWDY: Is it inappropriate to both – I get not asking you about the nature of it. Is it inappropriate to answer yes or no, whether or not that information was husbanded but not disseminated?
BRENNAN: My – my request would be that we could talk about that in closed session.
GOWDY: OK. I’ll honor your request, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit.
This is not the first discussion about the Russians holding potentially damaging information on Clinton or her camp.
In an extensive article published in April that included interviews with more than 30 current and former law enforcement officials, congressional officials and other government employees, the New York Times reported the Russians had hacked a document written by a Democratic operative that allegedly indicated Attorney General Loretta Lynch would have protected Clinton in the FBI’s probe of her private email server.
According to the Times report, then-FBI Director James Comey had information that the alleged Lynch document had been hacked by Russian intelligence, leading Comey to fear that Moscow could leak the document to call into question the independence of the U.S. government’s Clinton email probe.
Comey was asked about the alleged document at a hearing earlier this month before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on FBI oversight, where he repeatedly refused to publicly address significant questions about the document’s existence. He insisted on holding those discussions in a classified setting.
Ironically, the discussion of the Russians holding potential blackmail information against Clinton comes after the unraveling of a 35-page dossier on Trump that contains wild and unproven claims that the Russians had information on Trump and sordid sexual acts, including the mocked claim that Trump hired prostitutes and had them urinate on a hotel room bed.
The dossier was compiled by former intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who was reportedly paid by Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans to investigate Trump. Last month, Steele conceded in court documents that part of his work still needed to be verified.
During his testimony, meanwhile, Brennan explained why he believes the Russians allegedly favored Trump over Clinton.
Rooney asked Brennan: “Can you tell us whether or not, from the information that you’ve looked at, it looks like the intelligence shows that Moscow is actually rooting for Donald Trump, or were they rooting against Hillary Clinton? And why?”
That exchange continues:
BRENNAN: I – I think – my assessment is, it was both. I think that’s – that they – at different times in the campaign, they felt that the fortunes of one candidate or the other was going up or down, and I think that they, most of the time, believed that Secretary Clinton was going to win the election, and so their efforts to denigrate her were not just to try to diminish her chances of winning, but also to hurt her and – for her eventual presidency.
But also it’s my assessment that they clearly had a more favorable view toward Mr. Trump, and actions they were taking were trying to increase his prospects, even though I think that they probably felt as though they were not all that great.
ROONEY: Why? Why did they – why did they want her – why did they want him and not her?
BRENNAN: I think it’s a variety of reasons. One is that there was a – had been a traditional, I think (ph), animus, certainly, between Mr. Putin and Secretary Clinton, as well as that there has not been a good relationship between the Putins and – between Putin and the Clintons over the years. Felt that Secretary Clinton, with some of her actions while she was secretary of state, led to some of the domestic disturbances inside of Russia. And I think he was more concerned that she was going to be more rigid on certain issues, particularly on human rights and other issues.
ROONEY: But what – what was Donald Trump going to do for them, then? Or was it just that they didn’t like Hillary?
BRENNAN: No, I think they – they felt that Mr. Trump, being a bit of an outsider – that they have in the past had – had some good relations with businessmen who happened to elevate into positions of government authority, and so felt as though, from a negotiating standpoint, that he might be more amenable (ph) to… (CROSSTALK)
Brennan’s assessment of Russia’s thinking is shared by Comey, who earlier this month confirmed in testimony that the basis for the intelligence community’s assessment that Putin allegedly wanted Trump in office was not because the billionaire was, as Sen. Al Franken claimed during that hearing without citing any evidence, “ensnared in” Russia’s “web of patronage.”
Instead, Comey provided two primary reasons for Russia allegedly favoring Trump over Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.
One reason, according to Comey, was that Putin “hated” Clinton and would have favored any Republican opponent. The second reason, Comey explained, was that Putin made an assessment that it would be easier to make a deal with a businessman than someone from the political class.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With research by Joshua Klein.