Former CIA Director John Brennan reveals in a forthcoming book and interview that there was internal division at the spy agency over the level of confidence in an intelligence assessment that Vladimir Putin directed Russia’s election interference in the U.S. specifically to help Donald Trump.
According to The New York Times, Brennan describes in his memoir and in an unaired interview that two senior CIA officials pushed back in early 2017 against analysts’ assessment that they had a high level of confidence about Putin’s motives.
The officials lobbied Brennan for a medium-level confidence rating for the intelligence.
“They came up and talked to me about it and I listened to them because I wanted to make sure I understood exactly what their concerns were,” Brennan told C-SPAN in an interview yet to be aired. “And I encouraged them to talk to the authors of the assessment and determine if the judgment should stay at high confidence or medium confidence.”
An Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) released on Jan. 6, 2017, said that the CIA and FBI had a high level of confidence that the Russian government and Putin directed the election activities in order to help Trump by smearing Hillary Clinton. The National Security Agency had a medium-level confidence rating in the intelligence.
While it is widely accepted that the Russian government was behind email hacks of Democrats, some Republicans have cast doubt on the assessment that Putin and the Kremlin meddled in the election specifically to help Trump. They assert that Russia was more interested in sowing chaos in the U.S. political system. They’ve pointed to other intelligence that Russian leaders did not expect Trump to win the election.
Brennan downplayed the internal dispute and also denied altering the CIA’s assessment, as some Republicans and Trump allies have suggested.
“I didn’t change a single analytic judgment in that intelligence community assessment,” he said in the C-SPAN interview, according to the Times. Brennan asserted that the CIA ultimately adopted the analysts’ assessment of Putin’s motives, rather than the opposing view supported by the two CIA officials.
Brennan’s remarks are the first time he’s publicly acknowledged that there was some disagreement within the CIA about the intelligence on Russia’s election interference.
The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report in April that accepted the ICA’s findings regarding Putin’s motives. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released a report in April 2018 said there was insufficient evidence to determine that Putin specifically sought to help Trump.
U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is investigating several aspects of the intelligence-gathering effort against Trump and his associates, interviewed Brennan in August.
Brennan said through a spokesman at the time that Durham told him he is not a target of the investigation.