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Ex-CIA head warned Russia against election meddling

Eileen Sullivan and Deb Riechmann
Associated Press

Washington — Former CIA Director John Brennan told Congress Tuesday he personally warned Russia last summer against interfering in the U.S. presidential election and was so concerned about Russian contacts with people involved in Donald Trump’s campaign that he convened top counterintelligence officials to focus on it.

Meanwhile, a Senate committee issued two additional subpoenas to businesses of ousted Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, one of several key figures in the Russia-Trump campaign probe, and sent a letter to his lawyer questioning his basis for claiming a Fifth Amendment right not to provide documents.

If there is no response from Flynn, the Senate Intelligence Committee may consider a contempt-of-Congress charge, said Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina.

Tuesday’s letter narrowed the scope of the documents the panel is seeking. Flynn had rejected the earlier subpoena for records as being so broad that providing them could make him vulnerable.

Former CIA chief Brennan’s testimony to the House intelligence committee was the clearest public indication yet of the significance the Russia contacts play in counterintelligence investigations that continue to hang over the White House.

Brennan, who was President Barack Obama’s CIA director, said he couldn’t say whether there was collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, an issue being investigated by congressional committees and now a federal special counsel.

“I don’t have sufficient information to make a determination about whether or not such cooperation or complicity or collusion was taking place,” Brennan said. “But I know there was a basis to have individuals pull those threads.”

Brennan noted anew that U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary (Hillary) Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency, and to help President Trump’s election chances.”

“It should be clear to everyone that Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 present election process” and did so despite strong protests and his warning, he said.

Trump has predicted the investigations won’t find collusion, and his efforts to cast doubt and curb the probes have led to the appointment of a special counsel at the Justice Department.

News reports that Trump asked his national intelligence director and National Security Agency chief to state publicly there was no evidence of collusion have heightened criticism.

Dan Coats, the current U.S. director of national intelligence, declined to comment Tuesday on a Washington Post report that said the president had asked him to publicly deny any collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign.

Trump abroad

President Donald Trump made a personal appeal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, calling on both sides to put aside the “pain and disagreements of the past,” as he closed a four-day swing through the Middle East Tuesday.

But Trump departed for Europe having offered no real indication of a path forward on one of the world’s most intractable disputes.

Today, Trump meets with Pope Francis for the first time in a Vatican City ceremony laden with history and symbolism.