Former CIA Director John Brennan's appearance before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday rekindled the hopes of Democrats and others searching for proof that Donald Trump or his associates colluded with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. But Brennan gave the committee old information — he frankly admitted it was old — that did not take into account what has been learned in recent months from other sources.
In short, this is what Brennan said: In the summer of 2016, I saw contacts between Russians and people in the Trump circle. I worried that the Russians were trying to use the Trump people for their own purposes. I gave the information to the FBI. But I have no idea what the FBI did with the information.
Brennan publicly provided the rationale for beginning the FBI counter-intelligence investigation that former FBI Director James Comey has said began in July 2016.
"I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign," Brennan testified. "I know what the Russians try to do. They try to suborn individuals and they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to act on their behalf, either wittingly or unwittingly. And I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons and so therefore, by the time I left office on Jan. 20, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion. And so therefore I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues."
But Brennan could not tell the Intelligence Committee the results of the FBI investigation, or if the FBI had found, or not found, anything in the course of the investigation, which is now in its 10th month.
"Since you passed that information to the FBI director [in summer 2016], have you reviewed the FBI's development of that evidence or any other evidence?" asked Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell.
"I am unaware of what the bureau has done with that information, and I have no knowledge of anything, even, that the [CIA] has done since Jan. 20th," Brennan answered.
But others do have knowledge of what the FBI has done with Brennan's information. The FBI has briefed members of the so-called "Gang of Eight" — that is, the top Republican and Democrat on both House and Senate intelligence committees plus the two leaders of each house of Congress — on developments in the case. The bureau has also briefed the top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well.
Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator from California who last year was vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, was part of the Gang of Eight until January of this year, and since then has been ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. So she, unlike Brennan, has been kept up on what the FBI did with the information Brennan gave the bureau in the summer of 2016.
In an appearance on CNN May 3, Feinstein noted that she had been briefed by the FBI and had also recently visited CIA headquarters to review documents. "Do you believe, do you have evidence that there was in fact collusion between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign," anchor Wolf Blitzer asked Feinstein.
"Not at this time," Feinstein answered.
It was a careful response — most people involved with the investigation have noted that while they haven't seen proof of collusion to this point, some previously unseen evidence might still emerge. But on May 18, Feinstein appeared again on CNN.
"The last time we spoke, senator, I asked you if you had actually seen evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and you said to me — and I'm quoting you now — you said, 'Not at this time.' Has anything changed since we spoke last?"
"Well, not — no, it hasn't," Feinstein responded, going on to note that she expected the new Robert Mueller special counsel probe could "bring forward any criminal activity."
"But I just want to be precise, senator," Blitzer said. "In all of the — you've had access from the Intelligence Committee, from the Judiciary Committee, all the access you've had to very sensitive information, so far you've not seen any evidence of collusion. Is that right?"
"Well, evidence that would establish that there's collusion," Feinstein said. "There are all kinds of rumors around. There are newspaper stories, but that's not necessarily evidence."
Other members of Congress with access to updated information have said similar things. And Feinstein's statement was last Thursday, which is considerably more recent that Brennan's testimony that he gave the FBI information in the summer of 2016 and did not know what had happened with that information since.
That doesn't mean Brennan's concerns weren't real. But it does mean the story he told the House on Tuesday was incomplete.