The Senate Foreign Intelligence Committee held an evidentiary hearing today relating to the interference by Russia in the 2016 Presidential election. Senator Richard Burr is the Republican Chairman from North Carolina who led the hearing. Mark Warner was the Democratic Senator from Virginia who is the Vice Chair of the Committee and who assisted the Chairman in conducting the hearing.
The witnesses who attended the hearing included:
Rod Rosenstein,the Deputy Attorney General
Dan Coats the Director of National Intelligence
Admiral Michael Rogers,
Andrew McCabe, ACTING DIRECTOR OF FBI
Section 7, and particularly 702 of the FISA, was the subject of the hearing and its use in targeting Russians who may have affected the 2016 election.
The first statement was offered by Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence.
Significant testimony that he provided in his prepared remarks included:
- The importance of Title 7 of the FISA act. He explained that this provision is “vital” to gathering intelligence to protect our country. It was clear, and Mr. Coats emphasized, that the act can’t be used to target American citizens, but American citizens might only be the subject of surveillance as a result of their communications with foreigners. (That means that Trump, and the people in his administration, were not the targets of surveillance, and were only included in the surveillance as a result of communications with Russians who were the subject of surveillance.) Mr. Coats took a significant amount of time making sure that anyone listening to the testimony understood that the surveillance was not targeting any Americans.
- Mr. Coats emphasized that there has never been an intentional violation of the FISA laws which were enacted with a commitment to protecting the privacy of Americans.
- Mr. Coats provided specific examples of the use of Title 7 of FISA laws that have been successfully used to identify and target ISIS leaders, and in some cases to kill them.
Questions followed to all four witnesses. Did Trump ask Admiral and Dan Coats to downplay the Russian investigation?
Dan Coats was asked specifically asked about press reports that he was asked by the President to downplay or minimize the Russian investigation. Mr. Coats testified that he was uncomfortable testifying at a public hearing about any conversations with the President he might have had regarding the Russian investigation. However he stated that he never felt pressured from the White House to minimize the Russian investigation. Admiral Rogers, National Security Administration, testified that he has never been asked to back off, or down play, the Russian investigation.
The questioning of the Senators on the Intelligence Committee was clearly along party lines. Senator Rubio asked questions regarding leaks from intelligence agencies. Rubio distinguished between the difference between being pressured as opposed to be asked by the President to downplay the investigation.
2 of the four witnesses refused to answer questions regarding notes or memos that they may have made regarding conversations or interactions with the President.
Admiral Rogers testified that there is still an ongoing effort to gain intelligence regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.
***Andrew McCabe, the acting director of the FBI, was asked to identify any conversations he had with James Comey regarding the attempts of Trump to influence the election. HE REFUSED TO ANSWER!!!*************
McCabe was asked again to discuss any further discussions about the conversations he has had with Comey. McCabe explained that there was a special council appointed, and therefore he was choosing not to answer.
McCabe was directly asked for legal basis for his refusal to answer questions. He was unable to identify the legal basis for his refusal to answer. He did clarify that his refusal was based on the possibility that it might interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.
McCabe reinterated that he might not answer questions in private hearing due to special council Mueller’s involvement
John McCain asked for comments about the detailed report in this mornings Washington Post. Here is the article McCain references and discusses dates, times, people.
Andrew McCabe explained that there was no effort to impede the investigation of Russians interference with election. However he refused to testify about specific conversations with Comey. Rod Rosenstein was asked if Robert Mueller would be given full independence and authority to investigate and would Rosenstein give up power to fire Mueller. Rosenstein refused to agree to give up that ability.
Senator Mark Warner indicated in his concluding remarks that he is left with more questions and answers after the hearing.