Full transcript: FBI Director James Comey testifies on Russian interference in 2016 election
Below is the full transcript from the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. This post will be updated frequently.
NUNES: The committee will come to order.
I would like to welcome our witnesses, director of the FBI, Jim Comey and director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Rogers. Thank you both for being here today.
Before we begin, I would like to remind our members and witnesses that this is an open hearing. I recognize the challenge of discussing sensitive national security issues in public. However, as part of this committee’s investigation into Russian active measures during the 2016 election, it is critical to ensure that the public has access to credible unclassified facts and to clear the air regarding unsubstantiated media reports.
To our guests in the audience, welcome. We appreciate you being here. I also expect that the proper decorum will be observed at all times today and that disruptions during today’s proceedings will not be tolerated. I now recognize myself for five minutes for the purpose of an opening statement.
The Putin regime has a long history of aggressive actions against other countries, including the outright invasion of two of its neighbors in recent years, as well as its brutal military action in Syria to defend the Assad regime. But it’s hostile acts take many forms, aside from direct military assaults.
For example, the Kremlin is waging an international disinformation campaign through the RT propaganda network which traffics in anti-American conspiracy theories that rivaled the extravagant untruths of Soviet era Pravda (ph). Russia also has a long history of meddling in other countries, election systems and launching cyber attacks on a wide range of countries and industries.
The Baltic’s and other Russian neighbors have long decried these attacks. But their warnings went unheeded in far too many nations’ capitals, including our own. The fact that the Russia — that Russia hacked U.S. election-related databases comes as no shock to this committee. We have been closely monitoring Russia’s aggression for years.
A year ago, I publicly stated that our inability to predict Putin’s regime plans and intentions has been the biggest intelligence failure that we have seen since 9/11 and that remains my view today. However, while the indications of Russian measures targeting the U.S. presidential election are deeply troubling, one benefit is already clear. It has focused wide attention on the — on the pressing threats posed by the Russian autocrat.
In recent years, committee members have issued repeated and forceful pleas for stronger action against Russian belligerents. But the Obama administration was committed to the notion against all evidence that we could reset relations with Putin. And it routinely ignored our warnings. I hope today’s hearing will shed light on three important focus points of the committee’s investigation on Russia active measures.
First, what actions did Russia undertake against the United States during the 2016 election campaign and did anyone from political campaign — a political campaign conspire in these activities? Number two, were the communications of officials or associates of any campaign subject to any kind of improper surveillance? The intelligence community has — has extremely strict procedures for handling information pertaining to any U.S. citizens who are subject even to incidental surveillance. And this committee wants to ensure all surveillance activities have followed all relevant laws, rules and regulations.
Let me be clear, I’ve been saying this for several weeks. We know there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower. However, it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President’s Trump and his associates. Number three, who has leak classified information? Numerous current and former officials have leak purportedly classified information in connection to these questions. We aim to determine who has leaked or facilitated leaks of classified information so that these individuals can be brought to justice.
I hope that this committee’s bipartisan investigation will result in a definitive report on the Russian actions taken during the election campaign. To that end, we encourage anyone who has information about these topics to come forward and speak to the House Intelligence Committee. I again think the witnesses for helping shed light on these issues.
And I will let recognize Ranking Member Schiff. He’s asked for 15 minutes for his opening statement, so I will go ahead and give him 15 minutes for his opening statement.
SCHIFF: Mr. Chairman, I thank you. And I also want to thank Director Comey and Admiral Rogers for appearing before us today as the committee holds its first open hearing into the interference campaign waged against our 2016 presidential election.
Last summer at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential presidential campaign, a foreign adversarial power intervened in an effort to weaken our democracy and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other. That foreign adversary was of course Russia and it activated through its intelligence agencies and upon the direct instructions of its autocratic ruler Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J. Trump become the 45th president of the United States.
The Russian active measures campaign may have begun as early as 2015, when Russian intelligence services launched a series of spear fishing attacks designed to penetrate the computers of a broad array of Washington based Democratic and Republican party organizations, think tanks and other entities. This continued at least through the winter of 2016.
While at first the hacking may have been intended solely for the collection of foreign intelligence. In mid-2016 the Russians weapon eyes the stolen data and used platforms established by the Intel services, such as D.C. leaks in existing third-party channels like WikiLeaks to dump the documents. The stolen documents were almost uniformly damaging to the candidate Putin despised, Hillary Clinton. And by forcing her campaign to constantly respond to the daily drip of disclosures, the releases greatly benefited Donald Trump’s campaign.
None of these facts is seriously in question. And they’re reflected in the consensus conclusion of our intelligence agencies. We will never know whether the Russian intervention was determinative in such a close election. Indeed, it is unknowable in a campaign to which so many small changes could have dictated a different result. More importantly, and for the purposes of our investigation, it simply does not matter.
What does matter is this, the Russians successfully meddled in our democracy and our intelligence agencies have concluded they will do so again. Ours is not the first democracy to be attacked by the Russians in this way. Russian intelligence has been simile interfering in the internal and political affairs of our European and other allies for decades.
SCHIFF: What is striking here is the degree to which the Russians were willing to undertake such an audacious and risky action against the most powerful nation on Earth. That ought to be a warning to us that if we thought that the Russians would not dare to so blatantly interfere in our affairs, we were wrong.
And if we do not do our very best to understand how the Russians accomplished this unprecedented attack on our democracy and what we need to do to protect ourselves in the future, we will only have ourselves to blame. We know a lot about the Russian operation, about the way they amplified the damage their hacking and dumping of stolen documents was causing through the use of slick propaganda like R.T., the Kremlin’s media arm. But there is a lot we don’t know.
Most important, we do not yet know whether the Russians have the help of U.S. citizens including people associated with the Trump campaign. Many of the Trump’s campaign personnel, including the president himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is of course no crime. On the other hand, if the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history.
In Europe, where the Russians have a much longer history of political interference, they’ve used a variety of techniques to undermine democracy. They employed the hacking and dumping of documents and slick propaganda as they clearly did here. But they’ve also used bribery, blackmail, compromising material, and financial entanglement to secure needed cooperation from individual citizens of targeted countries.
The issue of U.S. person involvement is only one of the important matters that the chairman and I have agreed to investigate and which is memorialized in the detailed and bipartisan scope of investigation that we have signed. We’ll also examine whether the intelligence community’s assessment of the Russian operation is supported by the raw intelligence, whether the U.S. government responded properly or missed the opportunity to stop this Russian attack much earlier and whether the leak of information about Michael Flynn or others is indicative of a systemic problem.
We have also reviewed whether there is any evidence to support President Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama in Trump Tower and found no evidence whatsoever to support that slanderous accusation. And we hope that Director Comey can now put that matter permanently to rest. Today, most of my Democratic colleagues will be exploring with the witnesses the potential involvement of U.S. persons in the Russian attack on our democracy. It is not that we feel the other issues are less important; they are very important, but rather because this issue is least understood by the public. We realize of course that the witnesses may not be able to answer many of the questions in open session.
They may or may not be willing to disclose even whether there is an investigation. But we hope to present to you directors and the public why we believe this is a matter of such gravity that it demands a thorough investigation not only by us as we intend to do but by the FBI as well.
Let me give you a short preview of what I expect you’ll be asked by our members. Whether the Russian active measures campaign began as nothing more than an attempt to gather intelligence or was always intended to be more than that, we do not know and is one of the questions we hope to answer. But we do know this; the months of July and August 2016 appear to have been pivotal.
It was at this time the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton. And so the question is, why? What was happening in July, August of last year and were U.S. persons involved? Here are some of the matters drawn from public sources alone since that is all we can discuss in this setting that concern us and we believe should concern all Americans.
In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.
According to Christopher Steele, a British — a former British intelligence officer, who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, CEO of the Russian gas giant, Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s.
According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by such an on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share of Rosneft later takes place with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees. Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the campaign has offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability like WikiLeaks.
The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fair share. Policies which even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel have now presently come to pass. In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the — the Trump campaign manager and someone who was a long on the payroll of Pro Russian- Ukrainian interests attends the Russian — the Republican Party Convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests.
Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian Embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party Convention and meets with Carter Page, and additional Trump advisors J.D. Gordon and Walid Phares. It was J.D. Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow.
Ambassador Kislyac also meets with Trump national campaign chair, National Security Campaign Chair and now attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing. Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests.
Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign and altering the platform, but the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, J.D. Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision of the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.
Later in July and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on WikiLeaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker, Guccifer 2.0, claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to WikiLeaks. A leading private cyber security firms including Crowdstrike, Mandiant and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT 28 and APT 29 who are known to be Russian intelligence services.
The U.S. intelligence committee also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. Also in late July, candidate Trump praises WikiLeaks, says he loves them and openly appeals to the Russians to hack his opponents emails telling them that they will be richly rewarded by the press.
On August 8th, Roger Stone, a long time Trump political advisor and self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, boasts in his speech that he has communicated with Assange and that more documents would be coming, including an October surprise. In the middle of August, he also communicates with the Russian cut out Guccifer 2.0 and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer’s links to Russian intelligence.
Then later, in August, Stone does something truly remarkable. When he predicts that John Podesta’s personal emails will soon be published, trust me he says, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel, #crookedHillary. In the weeks that follow, Stone shows remarkable prescience. I have total confidence that WikiLeaks and my hero, Julian Assange will educate the American people soon, he says, #LockHerUp. Payload coming, he predicts and two days later it does.
WikiLeaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta’s emails would then continue on a daily basis, up until the election. On Election Day in November, Donald Trump wins. Donald Trump appoints one of his high-profile surrogates, Michael Flynn, to be his national security advisor. Michael Flynn has been paid by the Kremlin’s propaganda outfit RT in the past, as well as another Russian entity.
In December, Michael Flynn has a secret conversation with Ambassador Kislyak, about sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia over attacking designed to help the Trump campaign. Michael Flynn lies about the secret conversation. The vice president unknowingly then assures the country that no — no such conversation ever happened. The president is informed that Flynn has lied and Pence has misled the country. The president does nothing.
Two weeks later, the press reveals that Flynn has lied and the president is forced to fire Mr. Flynn. The president then praises the man who lied, Mr. Flynn, and castigates the press for exposing the lie.
Now, is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform was a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that Jeff Sessions failed to tell the Senate about his meetings with a Russian ambassador, not only at the convention, but a more private meeting in his office and at a time when the U.S. election was under attack by the Russians?
Is it a coincidence that Michael Flynn would lie about a conversation he had with the same Russian Ambassador Kislyak, about the most pressing issue facing both countries at the time they spoke, the U.S. imposition of sanctions over Russian hacking of our election designed to help Donald Trump? Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company, Rosneft, sold a 19 percent share after former British intelligence officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size?
Is it a coincidence that Steele’s Russian sources also affirmed that Russian had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for Pro Russian policies that would later come to pass? Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be a victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself, was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed?
Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet. And we owe it to the country to find out.
Director Comey, what you see on the dais in front of you in the form of this small number of members and staff is all we have to commit to this investigation. This is it. We are not supported by hundreds or thousands of agents and investigators with offices around the world. It is just us and our Senate counterparts.
In addition to this investigation we still have our day job which involves overseeing some of the largest and most important agencies in the country. Agencies which by the way are trained to keep secrets. I point this out for two reasons and I’m — I’m wrapping up Chairman. First because we cannot do this work alone and nor should we. We believe these issues are so important that the FBI must devote its resources to investigating each of them thoroughly, to do any less would be negligent in the protection of our country.
We also need your full cooperation with our investigation so that we may have the benefit of what you know and so that we may coordinate our efforts in the discharge of both our responsibilities. And second, I raise this because I believe that we would benefit from the work of an independent commission that can devote the staff resources to this investigation that we do not have. And it can be completely removed from any political considerations.
This should not be a substitute for the work that we, in the intelligence committee, should and must do. But as an important complement to our efforts, just as was the case after 9/11. The stakes are nothing less than the future of our democracy and liberal democracy. Because we’re engaged in a new war of ideas, not communism versus capitalism, but authoritarianism versus democracy and representative government. And in the struggle, our adversary sees our political process as a legitimate field of battle.
Only by understanding what the Russians did can we inoculate ourselves from further Russian interference that we know is coming. Only then can we protect our European allies, who are as we speak, enduring similar Russian interference in their own elections.
And finally, I want to say a word about our own committee investigation. You will undoubtedly observe in the questions and comments that our members make during today’s hearing that the members of both parties share a common concern over the Russian attack on our democracy. But bring a different perspective on the significance of certain issues or the quantum of evidence we have seen in the early — earliest stages of this investigation. This is to be expected.
The question most people have is whether we can really conduct this investigation in the kind of thorough and nonpartisan manner that the seriousness of the issues merit or whether the enormous political consequences of our work will make that impossible.
The truth is, I don’t know the answer, but I do know this, if this committee can do its work properly, if we can pursue the facts wherever they lead, unafraid to compel witnesses to testify, to hear what they have to say, to learn what we will. And after exhaustive work reach a common conclusion, it would be a tremendous public service and one that is very much in the national interest. So let us try.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman and I yield back. NUNES: Thank you. Gentleman yields back.
With that that, Admiral Rogers, you’re recognized for five minutes.
ROGERS: Thank you sir.
Chairman Nunes, Ranking Member Schiff and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of the men and women of the National Security Agency.
I’m honored to appear besides my teammate Director Comey to discuss Russia’s activities and intentions regarding the 2016 U.S. election. And want to assure the committee that my team is doing its best to fulfill the various requests of this committee to support your ongoing investigations into this subject.
ROGERS: Over the past weeks, NSA has been working closely with the committee to provide you the information that you require for your investigation and I can assure you we will continue to do so. When we last met in January, we discussed the classified version of the January intelligence committee — community’s assessment on assessing Russian activities and intentions in the recent U.S. elections.
Today, more than two months after we issued this assessment, we stand by it as issued. There is no change in our confidence level on the assessment. Of course, the specifics of this assessment need to remain classified to protect sensitive sources and methods so today I will limit my discussion to information in the public domain, that of the publicly released intelligence community assessment.
I hope you will understand that there are some issues I cannot discuss in an open session, nor will I be able to provide specifics in some areas. As the committee fully knows, the intelligence community has a long-standing policy of not discussing surveillance targeting information, in particular cases, as to do so would invariably open the door to compel further disclosures and litigation or the release of classified information, all of which would be harmful to our national security.
Like the committee, we are also greatly concerned about leaks of classified information as they can reveal the sources and methods we employ to provide intelligence to American policymakers and warfighters and generate advantage for our nation while protecting its citizens and interest and their privacy. I also want to assure the committee that we take very seriously that obligation to protect U.S. persons’ privacy. This applies to all stages of the production of foreign intelligence, but I’d like to emphasize one area in particular; the dissemination of U.S. person information.
We at NSA have strict procedures in place to make sure that our reporting and the contents of our reporting are disseminated only to those that have strict need-to- know for valid purposes which primarily means support of the development of foreign policy and to protect national security. I do want to specifically mention that among the collection and authorities that we have to target foreign actors in foreign spaces, FISA Section 702 and Executive Order 12333 have been instrumental in our ability to produce the intelligence made available to the committee and others in gathering the SIGINT facts of foreign activity in this election cycle.
It would be difficult to overstate the breadth and scale of malicious cyber activity occurring today. Our adversaries including nation states have not rested in trying to penetrate government systems, steal our private industries’ intellectual property, and make even greater strides towards the development and achievement of cyber attack capabilities. We have a hard-working and dedicated team at NSA that works every day to generate insights on this activity and to thwart its effectiveness. But cyber defense is a team sport and one of NFA — NSA’s strongest partners in this effort is Director Comey’s team at the FBI.
And I’m glad to be able to describe here today how we are working together to help protect the nation and our allies to include providing a better understanding of Russian intentions and capabilities. In light of the I.C. assessment and findings, I welcome your investigation into overall Russian activities targeting the previous U.S. elections. NSA continues to employ rigorous analytic standards, applying them in every aspect of our intelligence reporting.
Our analysts have consistently proven to be reliable and thorough in their technical and analytic efforts and providing our policymakers and warfighters with SIGINT ammunition to make informed decisions to protect our nation’s freedom and ensure the safety of its citizens. They are diligently continuing to monitor for additional reflections of Russian targeting of U.S. systems and those of our friends and allies around the world to share that information with our I.C. colleagues and foreign counterparts and to share that information with our I.C. colleagues and foreign counterparts and to produce unbiased, unprejudiced and timely reporting of SIGINT facts in their entirety.
I look forward your questions. Thank you, sir.
NUNES: Thank you, Admiral Rogers.
Director Comey, you’re recognized for five minutes.
COMEY: Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Schiff, members of the committee, thank you for including me in today’s hearing. I’m honored to be here representing the people of the FBI.
I hope we have shown you through our actions and our words how much we at the FBI value your oversight of our work and how much we respect your responsibility to investigate those things are important to the American people. Thank you for showing that both are being taken very seriously.
As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters, but in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so as Justice Department policies recognize. This is one of those circumstances.
I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
Because it is an open ongoing investigation and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining. At the request of congressional leaders, we have taken the extraordinary step in coordination with the Department of Justice of briefing this Congress’ leaders, including the leaders of this committee, in a classified setting in detail about the investigation but I can’t go into those details here. I know that is extremely frustrating to some folks. I hope you and the American people can understand. The FBI is very careful in how we handle information about our cases and about the people we are investigating.
We are also very careful about the way we handle information that may be of interest to our foreign adversaries. Both of those interests are at issue in a counterintelligence investigation. Please don’t draw any conclusions from the fact that I may not be able to comment on certain topics. I know speculating is part of human nature, but it really isn’t fair to draw conclusions simply because I say that I can’t comment.
Some folks may want to make comparisons to past instances where the Department of Justice and the FBI have spoken about the details of some investigations, but please keep in mind that those involved the details of completed investigations. Our ability to share details with the Congress and the American people is limited when those investigations are still open, which I hope makes sense.
We need to protect people’s privacy. We need to make sure we don’t give other people clues as to where we’re going. We need to make sure that we don’t give information to our foreign adversaries about what we know or don’t know. We just cannot do our work well or fairly if we start talking about it while we’re doing it. So we will try very, very hard to avoid that, as we always do.
This work is very complex and there is no way for me to give you a timetable as to when it will be done. We approach this work in an open-minded, independent way and our expert investigators will conclude that work as quickly as they can but they will always do it well no matter how long that takes. I can promise you, we will follow the facts wherever they lead. And I wanna underscore something my friend Mike Rogers said, leaks of classified information are serious, serious federal crimes for a reason…
COMEY: … they should be investigated and where possible prosecuted in a way that reflects that seriousness so that people understand it simply cannot be tolerated.
And I look forward to taking your questions.
NUNES: Thank you, Director Comey.
Admiral Rogers, first I wanna go to you. On January 6th, 2017, the intelligence community assessment assessing Russian activities and intentions in recent U.S. elections, stated that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.
So my question as of today, Admiral Rogers, do you have any evidence that Russia cyber actors changed vote tallies in the state of Michigan?
ROGERS: No I do not, but I would highlight we are a foreign intelligence organization, not a domestic intelligence organization. So it would be fair to say, we are probably not the best organization to provide a more complete answer.
NUNES: How about the state of Pennsylvania?
ROGERS: No, sir.
NUNES: The state of Wisconsin?
ROGERS: No, sir.
NUNES: State of Florida?
ROGERS: No, sir.
NUNES: The state of North Carolina?
ROGERS: No, sir.
NUNES: The state of Ohio?
ROGERS: No, sir.
NUNES: So — so you have no intelligence that suggests, or evidence that suggests, any votes were changed?
ROGERS: I have nothing generated by the national security industry, sir.
NUNES: Director Comey, do you have any evidence at the FBI that any votes were changed in the states that I mentioned to Admiral Rogers?
NUNES: Thank you. Admiral Rogers, I know that there was a leak of information regarding Director Clapper and Former Secretary of Defense Carter, were looking at relieving you of your — of your duty.
Are you aware of those stories?
ROGERS: I’m aware of media reporting to that.
NUNES: And those stories were leaked as soon as you had visited with President-elect Trump. Is that correct?
ROGERS: Yes sir, I was asked if I would be prepared to interview with the Trump administration for a position, which I did.
NUNES: Did the leak of that information at all — at all impact your ability and your assessment that you did for the intelligence community’s assessment on January 6th?
ROGERS: No sir, if I spent time in this job worrying about un- sourced media reporting, I’d never get any work done.
NUNES: Thank you, Admiral.
Director Comey, I remain extremely concerned about the widespread illegal leaks that you just referenced in your — in your testimony. Just for the record though, I wanna get this on the record.
Does the unauthorized disclosure of classified information to the press violate 18 USC 793, a section of the Espionage Act that criminalizes improperly accessing handling or transmitting national defense information?
NUNES: Would an unauthorized disclosure of FISA-derived information to the press violate 18 USC 798, a section of the Espionage Act that criminalizes the disclosure of information concerning the communication and intelligence activities of the United States?
COMEY: Yes, in addition to being a breach of our trust with the FISA Court that oversees our use of those authorities.
NUNES: Thank you, Director.
At this time, I’m gonna yield to Mr. Rooney, who chairs our NSA cyber committee, for questions.
ROONEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I’d like to direct my questions, first and foremost, to Admiral Rogers to convey my thanks to the many men and women for their dedication at the NSA for keeping our country safe. As well as I want to talk about the recent media stories, it may have led to confusion in the public about what the NSA is and is not legally collecting in. And the safeguards the NSA has put into place to protect personal data.
So I’d like to clarify is the chairman of the subcommittee on the NSA, I recently got to meet your deputy admiral last week out at the NSA and we visited and spoke of some of these things. And what — what we can talk about your today publicly, if you could go into, if you can’t, you can’t. But I think that this is important for the people in the room and — and listening outside understand.
Is it true that the NSA would need a court order based on probable cause to conduct electronic surveillance on a U.S. person inside the United States?
ROGERS: Yes sir.
ROONEY: And just to be clear, the section of the FISA that is expiring later this year, that’s 702, which will be talking about a little bit, cannot be used to target U.S. persons or persons in the United States, is that correct?
ROGERS: Yes sir.
ROONEY: Section 702 focuses on non-U.S. persons outside the United States, primarily correct?
ROGERS: Yes sir.
ROONEY: Do you believe that the section 702 is important and valuable for U.S. national security?
ROGERS: Yes sir.
ROONEY: So it’s safe to say that without having this tool, it would be a threat to our national security?
ROGERS: It would significantly impact my ability to generate the insights that I believe this nation needs.
ROONEY: In the media, there’s a lot of reporting about something called incidental collection. Can you talk about what incidental collection is?
ROGERS: Yes sir. Incidental collection is when we are targeting a valid foreign target, for example, in the course of that targeting we either get a reference to a U.S. person or suddenly a U.S. person appears as part of the conversation. That’s what we call incidental collecting.
ROONEY: And — and what you do when it went something like that happens, if there’s a U.S. person part of an incidental collection, what kind of safeguards are put in place to make sure that…
ROGERS: So it depends specifically on the legal authority that we’re using to execute the collection in the first place. But in broad terms, realizing again, it varies little bit by the specific authority that we’re using to conduct the collection. We step back and we ask ourselves first, are we dealing with a U.S. person here? Is there something that we didn’t expect to encounter that we’ve now encountered?
We’ll ask ourselves what leads us to believe that it is a U.S. person. If we come to the conclusion that it is a U.S. person and we ask ourselves are we — are we listening to criminal activity, are we seeing something of imminent threat or danger, for example, or are we just receiving something that has nothing to do with any of our valid collection authority? Based on that, we’ll then take a series of actions.
In some case, we will just purge the collect, make no reporting on it, not retain the data. It’s incidental collection, it has no intelligence value and it wasn’t the purpose of what we were doing. In some cases then if we believe that there is intelligence value, for example, whether it’s a reference to a U.S. person, as an example in a scenario.
In our reporting then we will mask the identity of the individual. We use a phrase like U.S. person one or U.S. person two. And I would remind everyone that for our purposes, U.S. person is defined very broadly. That is not just a U.S. citizen, that is a U.S. corporation, that is a ship or aircraft that is registered in the United States, that is an Internet protocol address, for example.
So it’s not just a particular individual, if that makes sense. The term for us is much broader because designed to ensure our protections of U.S. persons.
ROONEY: And this — the procedures and protections you talked about are required and approved by the FISA court, is that correct?
ROGERS: Yes sir, and the attorney general.
ROONEY: And you mentioned in your opening statement that for that kind of information to be disseminated outside of your agency and the NSA that that dissemination would be strictly on a need-to-know basis, is that — is that correct?
ROGERS: We use two criteria; is there a need to know in the course of the person or group that is asking for the identification, is there a valid need to know in the course of the execution of their official duties?
ROONEY: So like, who would that be?
ROGERS: It could be another element with the intelligence community, it could be another element within NSA, it could be a military customer, for example, who’s reading some of our reporting. It could be a policymaker.
I apologize, there was one other point I wanted to make, but I’ve lost the thread in my mind. I apologize if I jump in at a moment…
ROONEY: I’m sorry, I cut you off.
ROGERS: I’ll try to make…
ROONEY: Let’s get back to masking briefly.
You spoke about masking and trying to keep a U.S. person’s identity concealed. And when it is disseminated, you — we often talk about in the intelligence community about the exceptions to how — if somebody’s masks, how you unmask them. What would the exceptions to that masking be before it’s disseminated?
ROGERS: So again, we use two criteria; the need to know on the person requesting us in the execution of their official duties and the second part was, is the identification necessary to truly understand the context of the intelligence value that the report is designed to generate? Those are the two criteria we use.
ROONEY: Is that identity of a U.S. person communicating with a foreign target? Is that ordinarily disseminated in a masked or unmasked form? ROGERS: No. It is normally disseminated, if we — if we make the decision that there’s intelligence value and we’re going to report on it, it is normally disseminated in a masked form. I would — again, as I said, we use a reference, U.S. person one, U.S. person two…
ROGERS: I would highlight, if you look at the total breadth of our reporting, reporting involving U.S. persons at all is an incredibly small subset in my experience of our total reporting.
ROONEY: Who normally in the NSA would make the decision to unmask?
ROGERS: There are 20 individuals including myself who I have delegated this authority to approve unmask requests.
ROONEY: And does the level of approval change depending on the reason for unmasking? If it was something or somebody, say, really important would that matter or could it be…
ROGERS: Not — it’s not necessarily designated in writing that way, but certainly by custom and tradition, at times requests will be pushed up to my — I’m the senior-most of the 20 individuals. Requests will be pushed to my level, say “hey, sir, we just want to make sure that you’re comfortable with this.”
ROONEY: Right. So 20 people, that — you know, what procedures or safeguards are put in place to make sure that those 20 people are not unmasking wrongly?
ROGERS: So they retrieve specific training, there are specific controls put in place in terms of our ability to disseminate information out of the databases associated with U.S. persons.
ROONEY: OK. Let’s run through the exceptions quickly through a following hypothetical. If the NSA collects a communication where a target under surveillance is talking to a U.S. person, how would the NSA determine whether disseminating the U.S. person information is necessary to understanding the foreign intelligence or assess its importance?
ROGERS: So first of all, try to understand the nature of the conversation. Is this truly something that involves intelligence or a national security implication for the United States or is this just very normal, reasonable conversations, in which case we have no desire to have any awareness of it, it’s not applicable to our mission.
In that case, normally we’ll purge the data. We’ll ask ourselves, is there criminal activity involved, is there a threat, potential threat or harm to U.S. individuals being discussed in a conversation for example.
ROONEY: If there was criminal activity involved, what would you do then? ROGERS: If when we disseminate — if we decide we need — if it’s criminal activity, we’ll disseminate the information and if the FBI or other criminal activities are on the reporting stream, in some cases I also will generate a signed letter under my signature in specific cases to Department of Justice highlighting that what we think we have is potential criminal activity, but because we are not a law enforcement or justice organization we’re not in a place to make that determination.
ROONEY: OK. Based on that, again, hypothetically, if the NSA obtained the communication of General Flynn while he was communicating with the surveillance target legally, would you please explain how General Flynn’s identity could be unmasked based on the exceptions that we discussed?
ROGERS: Sir, I’m not going to discuss even hypotheticals about individuals, I’m sorry.
ROONEY: If I could make reference to a Washington Post article that I have here from February 9 which states — do you — let me say what it is and I’ll ask if you’ve read it or — or — or if you’ve seen it. Which states national security under Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with the country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office.
Contrary to public assertions by Trump officials current and — and former U.S. officials said. The article goes on to say that nine current or former — former officials who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the call spoke under the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. Did you read this article?
ROGERS: I apologize, sir. It’s not — an article that references nine particular individual — it doesn’t necessarily ring a bell. I’ve certainly seen plenty of media reporting that but again, I’m not going to comment on specifics.
ROONEY: Just basically under the breath of that article, when we when we hear that nine former, current — or current officials had spoken to the press under the condition of anonymity, and we heard our director Comey and the Chairman speak of this is a potential crime — a serious crime — under the Espionage Act, assuming if this article is accurate, who would have the — who would be in a position to request the unmasking of General Flynn’s identity? Would that be you?
ROGERS: I would have the authority to do that.
ROONEY: Who else would?
ROGERS: The 19 other individuals.
ROONEY: Would that include director Comey?
ROGERS: I’m talking about…
ROONEY: In the NSA… ROGERS: … within the National Security Agency and we’re talking about NSA reporting.
ROONEY: But — but would people like Director Comey also be able to request that?
ROONEY: And the attorney general and Director Clapper, are those type of people also on this list?
ROGERS: Again, I’m not going to — in general, yes, they would be…
ROONEY: Generally speaking, not with regard to…
ROGERS: I’m not going to talk about…
ROGERS: … of an individual or hypothetical scenarios.
ROONEY: Well, here’s what I’m trying to get at. If — if — if what we’re talking about is a serious crime as has — as has been alleged, in your opinion, would leaking of an — a U.S. person who has been unmasked and disseminated by intelligence community officials, would that leaking to the press hurt or help our ability to conduct national security matters?
ROONEY: OK. If — if it hurts — so this leak, which through the 702 tool, which we all agree is vital — or you and I at least agree to that — do you think that that leak actually threatens our national security? If it’s a crime and if it’s unveiling a masked person, and this tool is so important that it can potentially jeopardize this tool when we have to try to reauthorize it in a few months.
If this is used against the ability of us to reauthorize this tool and we can’t get it done because whoever did this leak, or these nine people that did this leak, create such a stir, whether it be, you know, in our legislative process or whatever, that they don’t feel confident that a U.S. person under the 702 program can be masked successfully and not leaked to the press, doesn’t that hurt, that leak hurt our national security?
ROGERS: Yes, sir.
ROONEY: Can you think of any reason why somebody would — would want to leak the identity of a mass person?
ROGERS: No sir, I — I mean I have raised this directly with my own workforce over the — over the course of the last few months to remind everyone, part of the ethics of our profession, not just the legal requirement but the ethics of our profession as intelligence professionals is we do not engage in this activity.
And I’ve also reminded the men and women of the National Security Agency, if I become aware of any such conduct, there is no place for you on this team. It’s unacceptable to the citizens of the nation that one would engage in this.
ROONEY: Well, I think that, you know, as we move forward, obviously, you know, I think that what you’re speaking of is this sacred trust that the intelligence community has with the American people and with the people that are representing them here on this dais.
And if we — I think that it’s vital that for those who break that sacred trust, if they are not held accountable whether it by the NSA internally or by the FBI through conviction or investigations/prosecution and conviction through the attorney general’s office of that crime, it is very difficult for us to be able to keep that sacred trust to know that what we’re doing is — is — is valid and what we’re doing has no nefarious motivations. And — and — and to us to be able to keep America safe without violating the constitutional protections that we all enjoy.
Mr. Chairman, I’m not sure how much more time I have left. I just wanted to…
ROGERS: Congressman, can I make one comment if I could, I apologize.
ROONEY: Yes, sir.
ROGERS: It comes to my mind based on your question, I just wanna remind everyone and in general. FISA collection on targets in the United States has nothing to do with 702, I just wanna make sure we’re not confusing the two things, here, 702 is collection overseas against non-U.S. persons.
ROONEY: Right and — and what — and what we’re talking about here, is incidentally, if a U.S. person is talking to a foreign person that we’re listening to, whether or not that person is unmasked…
ROGERS: I just wanna make sure we all understand the context, that’s all.
ROONEY: Right, right, and — and whether or not somebody in the intelligence community that we put the trust in, is going to leak that information to the press, for whatever reason. And I’m not even gonna get into the gratuitous, you know, what that reason may be.
But it’s really gonna hurt the people on this committee and you all on the intelligence community, when we try to retain this tool this year. And try to convince some of our colleagues that this is really important for national security, when somebody in the intelligence community says you know what? The hell with it, I’m gonna release this person’s name because I’m gonna get something out of it.
We’re all gonna be hurt by that if we can’t reauthorize this tool, do you agree with that?
ROGERS: Yes, sir.
ROONEY: Mr. Chairman, do I — do I have enough time to talk about the letter the committee sent?
ROONEY: The committee sent to you on March 15th, a letter — yeah, to Admiral Rogers and to Director Comey. Have you had a chance to look at this letter? I think that you’ve actually…
ROGERS: Yes sir, I in fact have given you a reply on the 17th.
ROONEY: Just real — real quickly because I don’t want to take up any more time. Can you give us a sense of how many unmasked U.S. persons identities were disseminated by the NSA from June 2016 to June 2017?
ROGERS: No sir. As I have indicated where the process of compiling that information. I will provide it to the committee. But until that work is done, I am not gonna comment.
ROONEY: Can you tell us whether any of those disseminations broadly were involved U.S. people relating to presidential candidates Donald J. Trump or Hillary Clinton, and their associates in 2016?
ROGERS: I won’t answer until I complete the research sir.
ROONEY: Assuming that the NSA disseminated unmasked U.S. persons information relating to the Trump or Clinton campaigns, would that have been a reason for such unmasking?
ROGERS: I apologize. I don’t truly understand the question.
ROONEY: Let me just move on to the next one.
Along those lines, if the NSA had wanted disseminate unmasked U.S persons information related to either the presidential campaign, who in the NSA would have approved such dissemination’s?
ROGERS: Again, it would’ve been one of the 20 and I provided that in my initial response to the committee. I have outlined the procedures, I’ve outlined the specific 20 individuals.
ROONEY: Thank you, Admiral. I appreciate your — your answers. I look forward to working with you on the subcommittee moving forward.
And Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
NUNES: Gentleman yields back.
Mr. Gowdy is recognized.
GOWDY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Director Comey, we will begin on this line of questioning, then we’ll finish it the next round. FISA and other similar related counterterrorism programs have been described, even this morning, as vital, critical and indispensable to our national security. And many of us on both sides of the aisle believe FISA and similar counterterrorism programs prevent terrorist attacks and save American lives.
But FISA and other surveillance programs are intentionally designed to preserve the privacy of U.S. citizens. They are intentionally designed to ensure the information is collected and used only for legitimate national security and criminal investigative purposes.
There are statutory safeguards, there are warrants based on probable calls, there is a FISA court that is involved, there are audits on the backend and we think so highly of this material. It is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison to unlawfully disseminate it. All of this was done to make sure this information gathered remains protected as it relates to U.S. citizens.
The way I view it, Director Comey, the American people have an agreement with their government. We are going to give you the tools to keep us safe, even if it infringes on our privacy Psalm (ph). We’re going to give you the tools. And government in return promises to safeguard the privacy of U.S. citizens. And when that deal is broken, it jeopardizes American trust in the surveillance program.
So let me ask you, do you agree FISA is critical to our national security?
COMEY: I do.
GOWDY: Do you agree programs like FISA were intentionally designed to safeguard the identity of U.S. persons?
COMEY: Yes, there are other — other important elements of it but that’s a primary goal, I believe.
GOWDY: It wasn’t an afterthought, it wasn’t an accident. These are intentional safeguards that we put in place to protect U.S. citizens, is that correct?
GOWDY: Do you agree much of what is learned from these programs is classified or otherwise legally protected?
COMEY: All FISA applications review by the court collection by us pursuant to our FISA authority is classified.
GOWDY: The dissemination of which is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison?
COMEY: Sure, dissemination — unauthorized dissemination. GOWDY: Unauthorized dissemination of classified or otherwise legally protected material punishable by a felony up to 10 years in federal prison.
COMEY: Yes. Yes, as it should be.
GOWDY: All right.
In January of this year, the Washington Post reported, according to a senior U.S. government official, a named U.S. citizen — and I will not use the name — a named U.S. citizen phoned the Russian ambassador several times on December 29.
In February of this year, the Washington Post reported nine, nine current and former officials who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the call, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters and that officials began pouring over intelligence reports, intercepted communications, and diplomatic cables.
In February of this year, the New York Times reported a U.S. citizen, whose name I will not use, discusses sanctions with the Russian ambassador in a phone call according to officials who have seen a transcript of the wiretapped conversation. And again in February of this year, the New York Times reported on a phone call involving a U.S. citizen including significant discussions of phone records, intercepted calls, intercepted communications, and reported the NSA captured calls and then asked the FBI to collect as much information as possible.
My time is up so I will say this for this round. I thought it was against the law to disseminate classified information. Is it?
COMEY: Yes, sir. It’s a serious crime. I’m not going to comment on those particular articles because I don’t want to, in any circumstance, compound a criminal act by confirming that it was classified information but in general, yes, it’s a serious crime and it should be for the reasons you said.
GOWDY: We’ll take it back up next round, Mr. Chairman.
NUNES: Gentleman yields back.
I’ll now yield 15 minutes to Mr. Schiff.
SCHIFF: Director Comey, I want to begin by attempting to put to rest several claims made by the president about his predecessor, namely that President Obama wiretapped his phones. So that we can be precise, I want to refer you to exactly what the president said and ask you whether there is any truth to it.
First, the president claimed, quote, “Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism,” unquote.
Director Comey, was the president’s statement that Obama had his wires tapped in Trump Tower a true statement?
COMEY: With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.
More coming soon.