CIA Director John Brennan personally briefed former President Barack Obama on Russia’s knowledge of Hillary Clinton’s “plan” to smear then-candidate Donald Trump as a Russian stooge during the 2016 presidential election, newly declassified documents reveal.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Tuesday declassified Brennan’s handwritten notes from the briefing, as well as a CIA memo revealing that officials referred the matter to the FBI for potential investigative action. That referral was sent to then-FBI Director James Comey and then-Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok.
Ratcliffe first revealed in a letter late last month that the FBI were aware of Russian intelligence regarding Hillary Clinton’s plan to link Trump to Russia as “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.”
Comey testified under oath last week to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the CIA referral didn’t “ring any bells” with him and therefore he was puzzled by Ratcliffe’s letter.
When asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the committee, whether he had considered conducting an investigation in 2016 to look into the matter, Comey feigned ignorance.
“I can’t answer that. I’ve read Mr. Ratcliffe’s letter which frankly I have trouble understanding,” he answered.
“You don’t remember getting an investigatory lead from the intelligence community? Sept. 7, 2016, U.S. intelligence officials forwarded an investigative referral to James Comey and Strzok regarding Clinton’s approval of a plan [about] Trump…as a means of distraction?” Graham demanded.
“That doesn’t ring any bells with me,” Comey replied.
“That’s a pretty stunning thing that it doesn’t ring a bell,” Graham fired back. “You get this inquiry from the intelligence community to look at the Clinton campaign trying to create a distraction, accusing Trump of being a Russian agent or a Russian stooge!”
Brennan apparently wrote the notes after he had briefed Obama and his top national security advisers on the matter, according to Fox News.
“We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [REDACTED],” Brennan’s handwritten notes state. “CITE alleged approval by Hillary Clinton–on 26 July–of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to villify [sic] Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security services.”
According to Brennan’s notes, Obama appeared to be more interested in tying Russia to Trump.
“Any evidence of collaboration between Trump campaign + Russia,” the notes read.
The remainder of the notes are redacted, except in the margins, which reads: “JC,” “Denis,” and “Susan,” referring to former DNI James Clapper, former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and former White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
In the memo to Comey and Strzok, the CIA said it was providing information about the Russian intelligence “for the exclusive use of your bureau for background investigative action or lead purposes as appropriate.”
“This memorandum contains sensitive information that could be source revealing. It should be handled with particular attention to compartmentation and need-to-know. To avoid the possible compromise of the source, any investigative action taken in response to the information below should be coordinated in advance with Chief Counterintelligence Mission Center, Legal,” the memo read. “It may not be used in any legal proceeding—including FISA applications—without prior approval…”
“Per FBI verbal request, CIA provides the below examples of information the CROSSFIRE HURRICANE fusion cell has gleaned to date,” the memo continued. ““An exchange [REDACTED] discussing US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning US presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering US elections as a means of distracting the public form her use of a private email server.”
The memo too is heavily redacted.
According to Ratcliffe’s letter, the intelligence included the “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016, of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.”
Nick Merrill, Clinton’s spokesperson, called the the new information “baseless b———t.”
But Ratcliffe, in a statement to Fox News, pushed back on the idea he was advancing “Russian disinformation.”
“To be clear, this is not Russian disinformation and has not been assessed as such by the Intelligence Community,” Ratcliffe said. “I’ll be briefing Congress on the sensitive sources and methods by which it was obtained in the coming days.”
A source familiar with the documents told Fox News on Tuesday that the allegation was “not disinformation.”
“This is not Russian disinformation. Even Brennan knew, or he wouldn’t be briefing the president of the United States on it,” the source said. “There is a high threshold to orally brief the president of the United States and he clearly felt this met that threshold.”
Another source familiar with the documents told Fox News that “this information has been sought by hundreds of congressional requests for legitimate oversight purposes and was withheld for political spite—and the belief that they’d never get caught.”
The source added that the Brennan notes are significant because it is “their own words, written and memorialized in real time.”
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., called the new information “smoking guns.”
“The documents that are underlying what we now have seen, I have only seen a few of those – they’re smoking guns,” Nunes said on Fox news’ “Sunday Morning Futures” this week. “That information definitely needs to be made available to the American public.”
The California congressman added that there is “even more underlying evidence that backs up” the information Ratcliffe released, and called the amount of time it took for the information to be declassified and made public “mind-boggling.”
“This has been a very difficult task for us to get to the bottom of, because you have corrupt officials,” Nunes said.
Attorney General Bill Barr last year appointed U.S. Attorney of Connecticut John Durham to investigate the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe shortly after special counsel Robert Mueller completed his years-long investigation into whether the campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election.
The declassified documents were transmitted to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on Tuesday afternoon.