On Monday, March 20, FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers gave unclassified testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Here are ten things you should know from the hearing:
1. There is bipartisan agreement on the House Intelligence Committee and agreement between the FBI and the intelligence community that the Russian government attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In his opening statement, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) stated, “The fact…that Russia hacked U.S. election-related databases comes as no shock to this committee. We have been closely monitoring Russia’s aggression for years.” Similarly, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, said:
Last summer at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential presidential campaign, a foreign adversarial power intervened in an effort to weaken our democracy and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other. That foreign adversary was of course Russia and it activated through its intelligence agencies and upon the direct instructions of its autocratic ruler Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J. Trump become the 45th president of the United States.
Director Comey also reaffirmed that the goal of the Russian hacking was to denigrate Secretary Hillary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency, and that Putin wanted to discredit Clinton because he publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012.
2. Both the U.S. government and American businesses are under frequent, wide-scale cyberattacks by foreign entities, including nation-states like Russia.
Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, told the committee:
It would be difficult to overstate the breadth and scale of malicious cyber activity occurring today. Our adversaries including nation-states have not rested in trying to penetrate government systems, steal our private industries’ intellectual property, and make even greater strides towards the development and achievement of cyber-attack capabilities.
3. The FBI is currently investigating possible connections between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
In his opening statement, Director Comey confirmed that as part of a counterintelligence investigation the FBI 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.”
4. The FBI gave Congress a classified, nonpublic briefing about the ongoing investigation.
Because the investigation is ongoing and classified, the current public hearing was not able to release specific details. (Comey: “I know that is extremely frustrating to some folks. I hope you and the American people can understand.”) However, the FBI gave some Congressional leaders, including members of the Intelligence Committee, a classified briefing about the investigation.
5. The intelligence community has no evidence that Russians were involved in any vote tallying.
Admiral Rogers said the intelligence community has no evidence that Russian cyber actors changed vote tallies in any U.S. states. Director Comey also confirmed that the FBI had no evidence of vote tampering.
6. The FBI has found no evidence to confirm President Trump’s tweets that President Obama had “wiretapped” Trump Tower.
As Comey said:
With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.
7. No individual—including the President of the United States—can unilaterally order direct electronic surveillance of another American citizen.
As Comey notes:
[T]here is a statutory framework in the United States under which courts grant permission for electronic surveillance either in a criminal case or a national security case based on a showing of probable cause, carefully overseen. It’s a rigorous, rigorous process that involves all three branches of government, and it’s one we’ve lived with since the late 1970s. That’s how it works. So no individual in the United States can direct electronic surveillance of anyone, it has to go through an application process, ask a judge, the judge can make the order.
8. The cyberattack breach of the Democratic Party headquarters by a foreign power in 2016 was similar to the break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in 1972.
When Rep. Shiff made the comparison to Watergate, Director Comey agreed they were similar and confirmed that the Russian intelligence services hacked into “a number of enterprises in the United States, including the Democratic National Committee.”
9. The claim made by President Trump that our British allies wiretapped him for Obama is “nonsense and utterly ridiculous.”
Rep. Shiff asked Admiral Rogers, “Now, the British allies—our British allies have called the president’s suggestion that they wiretapped him for Obama nonsense and utterly ridiculous. Would you agree?” Rogers answered: “Yes, sir.”
10. The Russians did not steal or disseminate information from the Republican National Committee or the Trump campaign.
Rep. Hines asked, “Was there any equivalent dissemination of adverse information stolen from the RNC or individuals associated with the Trump campaign?” Director Comey responded: “No.”
Joe Carter is an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College, an editor for several organizations, and the author of the NIV Lifehacks Bible.
Photo Credit: Screenshot of FBI Director James Comey giving his testimony for the House Intelligence Committee on March 20, 2017. NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers sits beside him. Source: Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, via YouTube.