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John Brennan: Hostility between Putin, Clintons drove Russia's actions

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Former CIA Director John Brennan said that Russia's effort to influence the 2016 election were aimed at helping Donald Trump because of the "animus" that had built up between Hillary Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Former CIA Director John Brennan told members of the House Intelligence Committee that Russia's effort to influence the 2016 election were aimed at helping Donald Trump because Russia felt it would do better with a businessman like Trump in the White House, and because of the "animus" that had built up between Hillary Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"[T]here had been a traditional, I think, animus certainly between Mr. Putin and Secretary Clinton, as well as there has not been a good relationship between Putin and the Clintons over the years," Brennan told the committee Tuesday.

"[Russia felt that] Secretary Clinton, with some of her actions while she was secretary of state, led to some of the domestic disturbances inside of Russia, and I think he was more concerned that she was going to be more rigid on certain issues, particularly on human rights, other issues," he said.

"They felt that Mr. Trump, being a bit of an outsider, that they have in the past had some good relations with businessmen who happen to elevate into positions of government authority," he added. "And so, felt as though from a negotiating standpoint, that he might be more amenable."

Brennan also said he expected that Russia would have continued to attack Clinton had she defeated Trump.

"I believe that they tried to damage and bloody her before the election, but also I would have anticipated that had she been elected, that their efforts to denigrate her and hurt her would have continued during her presidency," Brennan said. "So if they did collect more information on her that they did not release, I think they were husbanding it for another day."

When asked directly if he was aware if the Russians did have other information they were intending to use later on a Clinton presidency, Brennan said he would prefer not to answer that question in the open hearing, and would add detail in the closed hearing that will follow later today.

Brennan's testimony matches the analysis of numerous other intelligence officials that have testified in different congressional hearings through the beginning of this year, namely, that Russia primarily sought to favor Trump not because they expected him to win, but because they were more concerned about tarnishing the person they believed would ultimately be the winner.

In the same hearing, Brennan said he saw intelligence that was "worthy" of further investigation to determine potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian efforts. He outlined that one of the primary strategies of Russian counterintelligence was to "suborn" individuals, either in a witting or unwitting fashion.

That Russia might have compromised specific members of the Trump campaign – perhaps without direct knowledge by the campaign or Trump himself – is a central theory to Democrats who have continued to press the various Russia investigations. It also dovetails with the testimony from former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to the Senate Judiciary Committee when she said she was worried that Trump's national security advisor Mike Flynn might have been "compromised" by some of his activities, in particular his phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

The White House said in a statement that Brennan's testimony proves once again there was no collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

"This morning's hearings back up what we've been saying all along: that despite a year of investigation, there is still no evidence of any Russia-Trump campaign collusion, that the President never jeopardized intelligence sources or sharing," a White House spokesman said, "and that even Obama's CIA Director believes the leaks of classified information are 'appalling' and the culprits must be 'tracked down.'"