FBI director confirms investigation into Russia's alleged interference in 2016 election

FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the agency he oversees is investigating Russia's alleged meddling in the US presidential election.
36:50 | 03/20/17

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Transcript for FBI director confirms investigation into Russia's alleged interference in 2016 election
This is an ABC news special. George Stephanopoulos. And we are coming on the air right now for what has become a major showdown in Washington. There you see the house intelligence committee on Capitol Hill where just a few minutes FBI director James combing will present his findings on how Russia interfered in our presidential election. That issue has cast a shadow over these early days of the trump presidency. Became even more explosive sixteen days ago when president trump in a series of Saturday morning tweets accused pres Obama of spying on him during the 2016 elections. Gary C one just found out that Obama had my wires tapping trump tower just before the victory. How low as President Obama going to tapped my phones during the very secret election process this is Nixon Watergate battle we're seeing guy. Presidential buffer no evidence to back up his claim in the days since it has been denied and debunked by President Obama present and former intelligence officials. And the FBI director who privately after Justice Department to publicly refute the president. They refused so that extraordinary rebuke of the sitting president expected in this forum. As India is the wrapping ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee wraps up his opening statement right now. I want to bring in our chief White House correspondent John Carlin John president back on Twitter this morning all signs right now he's not gonna back down. He's not backing down at all George although it a series of tweets he tried to attract attention elsewhere away from the wiretapping. Allegation to other issues for instance take a look at this tweet. The real story that congress the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of classified information. Must find that leak curtain now. In other tweets he points out the lack of evidence that has been provided that there was any. Collusion between the trump campaign and the Russians in other words trying to focus on issues besides wiretapping. But Georgia want draw attention to something that the chairman of the Intel committee said at the beginning of this hearing. He said that while there was no physical wiretap of trump tower that's what trump said there was well there was no physical wire trapping of trump tower. Bit there may have been other surveillance. All of trump and his associates other surveillance methods of trump and his associates that's from Devin Nunez the Republican chairman of this committee. And certainly FBI director will be asked about that in just a few minutes the admiral Mike Rogers who's ahead of the National Security Agency also expected. To testify today as well they're getting getting to a lot of questions at this hearing they scope. Of Russia's interference on election there is the ranking Democrat. Adam Schiff also those questions to John raised as well raised by the president on Madonna music leaks of information concerning general Flynn also possible collusion. Between the trunk campaign. And the Russians some circumstantial evidence was raised in that statement by Adam Schiff. He is wrapping up now and after that we expect the FBI director to be sworn. Common and pollution. It would be a tremendous public service. And one that is very much in the national interest. So let us try. I thank you mr. chairman and I yield back thank you gentleman yields back would that admiral Rodgers you're recognized for five minutes. Think he served. Chairman Eunice ranking membership. Members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of the men and women of the National Security Agency. I'm honored to appear besides my teammate director coming to discuss Russia's activities and intentions. Regarding the Tony sixteen US election. And want to assure the committee. That my team is doing its best to fulfill the various requests of this committee to support your ongoing investigations. Into the subject. Over the past week's escape NSA has been working closely with the committee. To provide you the information that you required for your investigation and I can assure you we will continue to do so. When we last met in January. We discuss the classified version of the January intelligence committee can you needs assessment. And assessing Russian activities in intentions in the recent US elections. Today more than two months after reissued this assessment we stand by it is issued. There is no change in our competence level on the assessment. Of course the specifics of this assessment need to remain classified. To protect sensitive sources and methods so today I will limit my discussion to information in the public domain. That of the publicly. Released intelligence community assessment. I hope you'll understand that there are some issues I cannot discussed in an open session. Nor will I be able to provide specifics in some areas. As the committee fully knows the intelligence community has a longstanding policy. Of not discussing surveillance targeting information in particular cases as to do so what are invariably opened the door to compel further disclosures in litigation. Or the release of classified information. All of which would be harmful to our national security. Like the committee we are also greatly concern about leaks of classified information they can reveal the sources and methods we employed. The provide intelligence to American policy makers and war fighters. And generate advantage for our nation while protecting its citizens and interest and their privacy. I also want to assure the committee that we take very seriously. That obligation to protect US person's privacy. This applies to all stage of the production of foreign intelligence but I'd like to emphasize one area in particular the dissemination of US person information. We at NSA have strict procedures. But. In place to make sure that our reporting and the contents of our reporting or disseminated only to those. That have strict need to know for valid purposes. Which primarily means in support of the development of foreign policy and to protect national security. I do want to specifically mentioned that among the collection authorities that we have to target foreign actors and foreign spaces. Buys a section 702. And executive order twelve triple three have been instrumental in our ability to produce the intelligence made available to the committee. And others in gathering this again facts of foreign activity in this election cycle. It would be difficult to overstate the breadth and scale of malicious cyber activity occurring today. Our adversaries including nation states have not rested and trying to penetrate government systems. Steal our private industry's intellectual property. And make even greater strides towards the development and achievement of cyber attack capabilities. We have a hardworking and dedicated team again as saying that works every day to generate insights and that's activity and to thwart its effectiveness. It's cyber defenses a team sport and when it and it pays NSA's strongest partners in this effort is director Tommy's team that the FBI. I'm glad to be able to describe here today how we are working together to help protect the nation. And our allies to include providing a better understanding of Russian intentions and capabilities. And light of the IC assessment findings and welcome your investigation into overall Russian activities targeting the previous US elections. And I say continues to employ rigorous analytic standards applying them in every aspect of our intelligence reporting. Analysts have consistently proven to be reliable and throwing their technical an analytic efforts and providing our policy makers and war fighters. Was sick and ammunition to make informed decisions. To protect our nation's freedom and ensure the safety of its citizens. We are diligently continuing to monitor for additional reflections of Russian targeting of US systems. And those of our friends and allies around the world to share that information with our IC colleagues and foreign counterparts. And to produce unbiased. And prejudiced and timely reporting of sickened facts in their entirety. I look forward to your questions mr. its. Thank you got more Rogers director coming your recognized for five minutes. Mr. chairman ranking membership members of the committee thank you for including me in today's hearing I'm honored to be here representing the people of the FBI. I hope we have showing you youth through our actions and our words how much we have the FBI value your oversight of our work. And how much we respect your responsibility. To investigate those things that are important to the American people thank you for showing. They both are being taken very seriously. As you know our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations. Especially. Those investigations involve classified matters. But in an usual circumstances. Where it is in the public interest. It may be appropriate to do so. As Justice Department policies recognize. This is one of those circumstances. I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm. That the FBI as part of our counterintelligence. Mission is investigating. The Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016. Presidential election. And that includes. Investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the trump campaign. And the Russian government. And whether. There was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation. This will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed. Because it is an open ongoing investigation. And is classified. I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining. At the request of congressional leaders. We have taken the extraordinary step. In coordination with the Department of Justice a briefing this congress is leaders including the leaders of this committee. In a classified setting in di tale about the investigation. But I can't go into those details here. I know that is extremely frustrating to some folks but it is the way it has to be. For reasons that I hope you in the American people can understand. The FBI is very careful in how we handle information. About our cases. And about the people we are investigating. We are also very careful about the way we handle information that may be of interest to our foreign adversaries. Both of those interest art issue in a counterintelligence investigation. Please don't draw any conclusions from the fact that I may not be able to comment on certain topics. I know speculating as part of human nature but it really isn't fair to draw conclusions simply because I say I can't comment. Some folks may want to make comparisons. To past instances where the department justice and the FBI. Have spoken about the details of some investigations. But please keep in mind that those involved the our ability to share details with the congress and the American people is limited when those investigations are still open. Which I hope makes sense. We need to protect people's privacy. We need to make sure we don't give other people clues as to where we're going. We need to make sure that we don't give information to our foreign adversaries about what we know or don't know. We just cannot do our work well or fairly if we start talking about it while we're doing it. So we will try very very hard to abort that as we always do. This work is very complex. And there is no way for me to give you a timetable as to when it will be done. We approach this work in an open minded independent way and our expert investigators will conclude that work as quickly as they can. But they will always do it well no matter how long that takes. I can promise you we will follow the facts where ever they leave. And I want to underscore something my friend Mike Rogers said leaks of classified information are serious. Serious federal crimes for any reason. They should be investigated and where possible prosecuted. In a way the reflects that seriousness so the people understand it's simply cannot be tolerated. And look sort of taking your questions. Thank you director coming. I'm Rogers I first one ago but he you. On January. 6. 2017. Intelligence community assessment. Assessing Russian activities and intentions and recent US elections. Stated that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromise were not involved in vote tally. So my question. As a today admiral Rodgers do you have any evidence that Russia cyber. Actors change vote tallies in the state of Michigan. No I do not but I would highly where in foreign intelligence organization not a domestic intelligence organization. So would be fair to say we are probably not the best organization to provide a more complete answer. Out of the state of Pennsylvania no sir. The state of Wisconsin does her state of Florida announcer the state of North Carolina. Looser state of Ohio. No sir. So so you have no intelligence that suggests or evidence such as suggest any votes were changed and nothing generated by the national security agencies are. Director commie do you have any evidence that the FBI that any votes where changed in the states that I mentioned two Rodgers you know. Thank you. Admiral Rodgers. I know that there is a leak of information. Regarding. Director clapper and former secretary defense Carter. We're looking at to relieving you have your every duty or you're aware of those stories. I'm aware of media reporting to that. And those stories released as soon as you had visited with president elect trust. But correct yes sir I was asked if I would be prepared to interview with the top administration for position which I did. Did that. The leak of that information at all. At all impact your ability and your assessment that you did. For the intelligence community's assessment on January 6 no sir if I spent time in this job worrying about on the source media reporting had never get any work done. Thank you double. Director coming out remain extremely concerned about the widespread illegal leaks that you'd just referenced in your in your testimony just for the record though. Wanna get this on the record does the unauthorized disclosure of classified information to the press of violate eighteen USC 793. A section of the Espionage Act the criminalize is improperly accessing. Handling or transmitting national defense information. Yes. What an unauthorized disclosure of Pfizer derived information to the press violate eighteen USC 798 a section of the Espionage Act that. Criminalized disclosure of information concerning the communication and intelligence activities of the United States. Yes in addition to being a breach of our trust with the fights a court that overseas or use of those authorities. Thank you director at this time I'm gonna yield. Two mister Roney who chairs are in a safe cyber committee for questions thank you mr. chairman. I'd like to direct my questions first reformists admiral Rodgers to convey my thanks. Tuesday many men and women for their dedication at the NSA. For keeping our country safe. As well as. I want to talk about the recent media stories that may have led to confusion in the public about what the NSA. Is in is not legally collecting. And the safeguards the NSA has put into place to protect. Personal data. So I'd like to clarify is the chairman of the subcommittee on the NSA. Got recently got to teacher deputy Aaron roll last week. Out at the end of say we visited spoke some of these things from what what we can talk about here today publicly if we if you could going to detainee camp but. I think that this is important for the people in the room and and listening outside. Understand. Is it true the the NSA would need a court order based on probable cause. To conduct electronic surveillance on a US person inside the United States yes sir. And just to be clear this section of the fights that is expiring later this year that seven notes due which will be talking about. A little bit. Cannot be used to target US persons or persons in the United States are cracked yes sir. Section 702 focuses on non US persons outside the United States primarily correct yes sir. Do you believe that the six and 702. Is. Important and valuable for US national security yes sir. So it's safe to say that without having this school. It would be a threat to our national security would significantly impact my ability to generate the insights that I believe this nation needs. In the media there's a lot of reporting about something called incidental collection can you talk about what incidental collection it's. He essar incidental collection is what we are targeting a valid foreign target for example. In the course of that targeting. We either get a reference to a US person. Or suddenly a US person appears as part of the conversation that's what we call incidental collecting. And and what do you do when it went something like that happens if there's a US person. Part of an incidental collection what kind of safeguards are put in place to make sure that. So it depends specifically on the legal authority that were using to execute collection in the first place but in broad terms relating again theories a little bit by this specific authority that reason you can cut the collection. You step back and we ask ourselves first much are we dealing with a US person. Is there something that we didn't expect to encounter that we've now encountered. We'll ask ourselves what leads us to believe that is a US person if we come to the conclusion that it is a US personally ask ourselves. But we see are we listening to criminal activity are we seeing something of imminent threat or danger for example. Problem or are we just receiving something that has nothing to do it any of our good and valid collection authority. Based on that will then take a series of actions in some case we will just purge the collect make no reporting on it not retain the data. It's incidental collection and has no intelligence value and it wasn't the purpose of what we're doing. In some places and if we believe that there is intelligence value for example whether it's a reference to a US person as an example in a scenario. In our reporting then we will mask the identity individual will use a phrase like US person won or US person to. And I would remind everyone and that for our purposes US person is defined very broadly that is not just a US citizen. That is a US corporation that is a Schiffer aircraft that is registered in the United States as an Internet protocol address for example. So it's not just a particular individual and that makes sense that term for us is much broader because it's designed to ensure our protections of US persons. Ms. The procedures some protection she talked about are required and approved by the fights a court of sect correct. Yes sir and the attorney general and you mentioned in your opening statement that prefer. That kind of information to be disseminated outside of your agency in the NSA. That that dissemination would be strictly on a need to know basis is that they're cracks we use to criteria. Is there a need to know in the course of the person or group that is asking for the identification is there a ballot need to know in the course of the execution of their official. Duties so leveling to a deputy. It could be another element with the intelligence community to be another element within NSA it should be a military customer. For example of treating some of our reporting. He couldn't get policymakers. I apologize there was one other point that I wanted to make but I've lost the thread in my mind I apologize. Aren't good had a moment help. China and let's get back to masking briefly you spoke about masking. And and and trying to keep a US. Person's. Identity concealed. And when it is disseminated. Yeah. You wheat wheat we often talk about the intelligence community about the eight exceptions to. How outside company and if somebody's masks are you unmask them. What would the exceptions to. That masking BV forts disseminated. So again we use two criteria the need to know on the person requesting us an excuse an official duties and a second part was. Is the identification necessary to truly understand the context in the intelligence tell you that the report is designed to generate those of the two criteria we use. Is that is that identity of the US person communicating with the foreign target it set ordinarily disseminated. In a master on maps form. Though is normally disseminated if we just senate if we make a decision that there's intelligence failure and we're going to report that. I'm it is normally disseminated. In a mask form I would and again as they simply use a reference US person one US personnel who. I would highlight. If you look at the total breath of our reporting reporting involving US pure persons and all is an incredibly. Small subset in my experience and are told reporting who's who normally in the NSA would make the decision to unmask. There are Tony individuals including myself led delegated this authority to approve a mass requests. It does the level of approval change depending on the reason for unmasking. If it was something or somebody say really important what would that matter. Could be it's not necessarily designated air right now way by certainly by custom and tradition at times requests will be pushed up tomorrow what on the senior most of the twenty individuals. Requests will be pushed to my level saying sir we just want to make sure that that you're comfortable with us so Tony people that. You know what what procedures are safeguards are put in place to make sure. That those forty people are not unmasking. You know wrongly. So they retrieve specific training their specific controls by a place in terms of our ability disseminate. Information out of the databases associated with US persons. OK let's run through the exceptions are quickly com through a following hypothetical the NSA collects the communication. Where target under surveillance is talking to US person how the NSA determine whether disseminating the US person information is necessary. To under seeming foreign intelligence. Or assess its importance. So first we'll try to understand the nature of the conversation is it is truly something that involves intelligence or NASA's history implication for the United States resist just. During normal reasonable conversations in which case we have no desire to have an awareness of it it's not apple of our mission. And I said in that case normally will purge the data. We'll ask ourselves. Is clear criminal activity involved is serious threat potential threat or harm to US individuals being discussed in the conversation for example if there was criminal activity impromptu what you do then. If when we disseminate if we decide we need his criminal activity will disseminate the information if the FBI or other criminal activities are on the reporting stream. In some cases I also will generate a signed letter under my signature and specific cases to. Department of Justice highlighting of all we think we have as potential criminal activity but because you're not a law enforcement or justice organization. We're not a place to make that determination. Okay based on that again hypothetically if the NSA obtain the communication. But general Flynn while he was communicating with the surveillance target legally. Which you please explain how general flames identity could be unmasked. Based on the exceptions that we. Sir I'm not gonna discuss even hype hypotheticals about individuals I'm sorry. If I could make reference to a Washington post's article that I have here from February 9 which states. To use. Let me say what it is an RS if you read murder if you've seen it. Which states national security under Michael Flynn privately discussed US sanctions against Russia. With the country's ambassador to the United States storing the month before president trump took office contrary. To public assertions by trump officials. Current and in former US official said. The article goes on to say that nine occurring. Or former former officials who were in senior positions at multiple agencies. At the time of the call spoke. Under the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters did you read this article. I apologize search not. An article that references night particular individual it doesn't necessary ring a bell I've certainly seen plenty of media reporting that again I'm Mike gonna comment on. Specifics to it just basically. Under the breath of that article when we when we hear that nine former current. Or current officials. Had spoken to the press under the condition of anonymity and we heard art director Komi. And the chairman speak of this is a potential crime. Serious crime. Under the espionage Jack's. Assuming if this article is accurate. Who would have that does it who would be in a position to request. The unmasking of general wins identity would that be you. I would have the authority to do that who else would. In nineteen other individuals. Would that include director combing. I'm talking about in win assailants within the National Security Agency we're talking about NSA report but but what people like director Komi also be able to request that. Yeah the attorney general in. Director clapper are are those type of people also on this list. Again I'm not gonna talk in general yes they would be generally they cannot not with regard it was a contest I can talk about the subjects of an individual. Hypothetical scenario we'll figure here's what I'm trying to get at it if if if what we're talking about it's a serious crime as as has been. Alleged. In Europe. Bye. Intelligence community officials. Would that leaking to the press hurt or help our ability to conduct national security hurt others. OK if if it hurts. So this league. Which through the 702 school which we all agree despite lower you and I at least agreed to that. Do you think that that leak actually threatens our national security. If it's a crime. And if it's unveiling a masked person. And this tool is so important that it could potentially jeopardize this storm we have to try to re authorized it in a few months. If this is used against the ability of us to reauthorize this tool. And we can't get it done because whoever did this leak these nine people that did this leak. Create such a stir. Whether it be you know it in our legislative process or whatever. But they don't feel confident that a US person under the 702 program can be masks. Successfully. And not leaked to the press. Doesn't that hurt that leak hurt our national security yes sir. You think of any reason why somebody would would want to leak. The identity. A masked person. No sir I mean I've raised this directly with my own work for a short the quote over the course of the last few months to remind everyone. Part of the ethics of our profession not just the legal requirement that the ethics of our profession. As intelligence professionals as we do not engage in this activity have also reminded. The men and women a National Security Agency. If I become aware of any such conduct there is no place for you on this team. It's unacceptable as citizens of the nation well I think then when. We know engines as we move forward. Obviously you know I think that where you're speaking out this this sacred trust that the intelligence community has with the American people want people that are are representing them here on this diets. And if we I think that it's vital that for those. Who break that sacred trust. If they are not held accountable whether it by the NSA internally or by the FBI through our conviction. Or investigation slash. Prosecution in its last conviction through the attorney general's office. Of that crime it is very difficult for us to be able to keep that sacred trust to know that what we're doing. It is is valid and what we're doing has no nefarious. Motivations. And and and it to us to be able to keep America safe without violating the constitutional protections. That we all in two ways. Mr. chairman I I'm not sure how much more time I have left I just wanted to. Person can make one comment if I could I apologize it comes so I'm basing your question I just room want to remind everyone and in general. Pfizer collection on targets in the United States has nothing to do was 72. It just want to make sure we're not confusing the two things here. 702 is collection overseas against non US persons. Right and and what. And what we're talking about here is incidentally if the US person is talking to a foreign person that were listening to whether or not that person is on the planet showing right stay right context that's and and and whether or not somebody in the intelligence community that we put the trust in. It's going to leak that information. To the press for whatever reason. And I'm not even gonna get into the gratuitous. You know what that reason may be Tom. But it's really gonna hurt the people on this committee and you along the intelligence community we try to retain this tool this year. And try to convince some of our colleagues at this is really important for national security when somebody in the intelligence community says you know what the hell what that I'm that are released this person's name. Because I'm going to get something out of it. Were all gonna be hurt by that if we can't reauthorize this told you agree with that has served. Mr. chairman do it I have enough time to talk about via letter which the committee sent the committee sent to you from. On March 15. A letter. Yet to admiral Rodgers and two director combing. If you had a chance a look at this letter I think that you're back yet so I tactic giving your reply and the seventeenth. Just real real quickly because I don't wanna take up anymore time can you give us a sense of how many unmask US persons identities were disseminated by the NSA. From June 2016 to June 27 teams. They'll survive as I've indicated where the process of compiling that information I will provide it to the committee but until that work is done I'm not gonna comment. Can you tell us whether any of those seven nations broadly were involved US people relating to presidential candidates Donald. And their associates in 2016 and wall answer until I complete the research are assuming that the NSA disseminated unmasked US persons. Information relating to the trump or Clinton Campaign put that have been a reason for such unmasking. I apologize and we're truly understand the question. Let me just move on to the next form. Along those lines if the NSA had one aid. To disseminate unmasked US persons information. Related to either presidential campaign who in the NSA would have approved such disseminate since. Begin it would have been 120 and I provided that in my initial response to the committee I'll bite law outline the procedures. I've outlined the specifics when he individuals. Thank you admiral I appreciate your your answers I look forward to working with you on the subcommittee moving forward and mr. chairman I yield back. The meals back to mr. gotti's recognized. Thank you mr. chairman director Komi we will begin. Home there's lot of question that will finish at the next round. I say I know there are similar related counter terrorism programs have been described even this morning as vital critical an indispensable to our national. Security and many of us on both sides of the I'll believe phys and similar counterterrorism programs. Prevent terrorist attacks and save American lives. But ice an older surveillance programs are intentionally. Decide to preserve the privacy. Of US citizens. Mayo or intentionally. Designed. To ensure the information is collected. And used only for legitimate national security and criminal investigative purposes. There are statutory. Safeguards. There are warrants based -- probable calls. There is a fight is a court that is involved there are audits all the back again and we think so highly of this material. It is a felony punishable by up to ten years in federal prison to unlawfully. Disseminated. All of this was done. To make sure of this information gathered. Remains protected as it relates to US citizens the way I view it director called me. The American people have an agreement with their government. We are pointing gives you the tools to keep boss say even if it infringes on our privacy salt we're going to give you the tools. And government and worked her. Promises to save scored the privacy. Of US centrists. And when that deal is broken. It jeopardizes. American trust in these surveillance. Program so let me ask you. Do you agree fighters and is critical to our nationals here I do. Every question continues there on the House Intelligence Committee big headline so far the big headline from the FBI director confirming. That the FBI is indeed investigating. A Russian interference in our election campaign any contacts and links between those those efforts and try to campaign or his associates. And the possibility. Of any coordination you when go beyond that saying this is an open. Investigators want to bring that straight to Pierre Thomas Perry is also expected to be questioned. On these tweets by president trumpet so far the big headline that open investigation he says that we're gonna follow the Eagles tax. Ever really. George that's an extraordinary headline it means that people associated with the president of the United States are now under investigation by the FBI potentially. And he said that the FBI would pursue this independently. And you see now the extraordinary power that the FBI has even within the executive branch to pursue these kind of investigation without interference street. Love that airfares Jon Karl a lot of the attention also on that issue raised by president from these leaks. Particularly the ones that unmasked his former ask you advisor Michael Flynn. Get the Republican so we've heard from so far that committee are very much. Following the line of inquiry that the White House would like to see which is outrage over the leaks leaks at the White House sees as simply illegal and harmful of the president. OK we go back now our regular programming Moore on the hearings on Good Morning America for our viewers in the west. He for the hearings all day long and ABC news dot accomplice a complete wrap up tonight on world news we're giving our. Have a good day. This has been a special.

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