In an internal memo to CIA employees final December, CIA Director John Brennan complained that some members of Congress he had briefed approximately the agency’s assessment that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election did not “understand and appreciate the importance and gravity of the issue.”
Brennan’s December 16, 2016 memo did not identify the lawmakers who expressed skepticism approximately the CIA’s judgment that Russia helped Donald Trump win the election. But three intelligence sources told BuzzFeed News that Brennan’s criticism was directed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator John Cornyn, the Majority Whip. At the time, the two Republican lawmakers downplayed the importance of the CIA’s intelligence. Cornyn said it was “hardly news.”
Four congressional committees are now investigating Russia’s role in the presidential election and ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
The Brennan memo offers rare insight into a tense time when it was under pressure by the White House and Congress to produce evidence to support its conclusions approximately Russia’s meddling in the election. It was obtained by BuzzFeed News and Ryan Shapiro, an MIT doctoral candidate and co-founder of the transparency project Operation 45, in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA and other intelligence agencies for documents approximately Russia’s role in the election.
The CIA declined to comment approximately Brennan’s memo. Brennan, who was appointed CIA director by President Barack Obama and left the agency when Trump became president, did not respond to requests for comment.
Brennan circulated the memo the same day The Washington Post reported that the FBI agreed with the CIA’s secret intelligence assessment. The CIA director was particularly angered by reports in The Washington Post, the three sources said, which had led news coverage of the CIA’s election assessment, sparking follow-up stories across the news media. In his memo, Brennan characterized the “barrage” of stories as “misleading and inaccurate.”
In a separate memo he sent CIA employees on December 13, 2016, after details approximately the secret CIA assessment leaked to the media, Brennan warned that “there will likely be additional uninformed public discourse and speculation on this matter that will surface in the media in the days and weeks ahead.”
“I understand how frustrating such reports can be, but this is one of the many challenges we face in our line of work,” Brennan wrote.
Brennan also slammed the “named and anonymous sources” in news reports who dismissed the value of intelligence and “impugn the integrity of intelligence officers.” Such comments “inaccurate and misleading” news reports, the CIA director said, were “distractions.” He urged his staff to disregard them and stay focused on their work.
Five days before Brennan sent that memo, then-President Elect Donald Trump’s transition team had ridiculed the CIA’s conclusions and belittled intelligence officers.
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the Trump transition team said in a statement approximately the CIA’s Russia assessment.
Trump himself, in an interview with Fox News that same day, said of the CIA’s conclusion: “I reflect it’s ridiculous. I reflect it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it.” Intelligence has been “politicized in the Obama administration to a very meaningful degree,” he added.
Brennan told his employees, “Never maintain our national security challenges been so many and complex, nor has the need for your service been so much.”
Jason Leopold is a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in LA. Recipient: IRE 2016 FOI award; Newseum Institute National Freedom of Information corridor of Fame. PGP fingerprint 46DB 0712 284B 8C6E 40FF 7A1B D3CD 5720 694B 16F0. Contact this reporter at [email protected]
Contact Jason Leopold at [email protected].
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.