CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "diverse mission requirements in support of our National Security", in Washington, DC, June 16, 2016.
Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

CIA warned lawmakers about Russia’s pro-Trump efforts last summer

In late-August, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) raised quite a fuss with the FBI, urging federal law-enforcement officials to take the burgeoning Russia scandal seriously. In a letter to FBI Director James Comey, Reid pointed to “evidence of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.”

As the Associated Press reported at the time, Reid said it was vital to investigate the circumstances, including any “complicit intermediaries” between the Russian government, the leakers and “any U.S. citizen.”

By and large, Reid’s concerns were overlooked – much of the political world decided that Hillary Clinton’s email server protocols were of far greater significance – but there’s new reporting that sheds fresh light on what the Democratic Senate leader knew at the time, but couldn’t publicly acknowledge. The New York Times reported overnight:
The C.I.A. told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump’s victory months later, former government officials say.

The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia’s intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought…. The former officials said that in late August — 10 weeks before the election — John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for eight top members of Congress, some of them on secure phone lines while they were on their summer break.
According to the Times’ report, the week of Reid’s letter to Comey, Brennan told the senator not only that Russia appeared to be taking steps to help the Trump campaign, but also that “unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election.”

In other words, the director of the CIA indicated to the Democratic Senate leader that there may have been cooperation between Team Trump and Moscow – the very question an ongoing counter-espionage investigation is apparently trying to answer.

The same reporting pointed to Reid’s Republican counterpart playing an unconstructive role in the process.
The classified briefings that the C.I.A. held in August and September for the so-called Gang of Eight — the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate and of the intelligence committees in each chamber — show deep concerns about the impact of the election meddling.

In the briefings, the C.I.A. said there was intelligence indicating not only that the Russians were trying to get Mr. Trump elected but that they had gained computer access to multiple state and local election boards in the United States since 2014, officials said.

Although the breached systems were not involved in actual vote-tallying operations, Obama administration officials proposed that the eight senior lawmakers write a letter to state election officials warning them of the possible threat posed by Russian hacking, officials said.

But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, resisted, questioning the underpinnings of the intelligence, according to officials with knowledge of the discussions. Mr. McConnell ultimately agreed to a softer version of the letter, which did not mention the Russians but warned of unnamed “malefactors” who might seek to disrupt the elections through online intrusion. The letter, dated Sept. 28, was signed by Mr. McConnell, Mr. Reid, Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the ranking Democrat.
McConnell’s role in this mess continues to be a key point of interest. Indeed, it’s not too surprising that the Senate Republican Leader was reluctant to play a productive role following the CIA’s briefing, because it wasn’t the only time.

The Washington Post reported in December that the White House, swayed by the evidence compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, wanted bipartisan support to pushback against Russian intrusion, and in mid-September, President Obama dispatched counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco, FBI Director James Comey, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to brief top members of Congress.

Obama didn’t want to be seen as using intelligence for partisan or electoral ends, so he sought a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” against foreign manipulation of our democracy.

That didn’t happen, in large part because Kentucky’s senior senator refused.

Confronted with evidence of an adversary attacking our democracy to help influence the outcome of a presidential election, Mitch McConnell more than once showed no real interest.

History does not look favorably on those who intentionally put their party’s interests ahead of the nation’s.

CIA, FBI, Harry Reid, James Comey, John Brennan, Mitch McConnell, Russia and Scandals

CIA warned lawmakers about Russia's pro-Trump efforts last summer