What we learned from the Brennan and Coats hearings

Brennan: Sufficient intel to warrant probe
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Story highlights

  • Former CIA Director John Brennan testified before the House intelligence committee
  • Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified at the Senate armed services panel

(CNN)Another set of Capitol Hill hearings brought more pain for President Donald Trump Tuesday, as former CIA Director John Brennan told lawmakers there was clear contact between Trump campaign aides and Russian operatives. At almost the same time, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said he would be willing to discuss later whether Trump leaned on him to push back against Russia reports.

Here are the top five things we learned.

    1. The former head of the CIA saw evidence Russian operatives were trying to cultivate Trump campaign aides

    Brennan, testifying for the first time as a private citizen, offered up a stream of news and developments Tuesday morning, but the biggest was clearly that he saw evidence that Trump aides were being courted by Russian operatives. He refused to name names, but that statement alone was enough.
    "I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and US persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals and it raised questions in my mind, again, whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals," Brennan told the House intelligence committee.
    He later added that, "these are contacts that might've been totally, totally innocent and benign as well as those that might have succumbed somehow to those Russian efforts."

    2. Coats may be ready to say whether Trump pressured him

    Coats would not answer questions about reports that Trump asked him to publicly deny evidence of cooperation between his campaign and Russia. And he would not say whether he's spoken about the issue with National Security Agency Chief Adm. Mike Rogers, who Trump also reportedly asked to deny the Russia collusion.
    "I don't feel it's appropriate for me to characterize discussions and conversations with the President," Coats told the Senate armed services committee at a hearing Tuesday.
    But importantly, Coats said he would be willing to talk about his conversations if asked by both Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators.
    Coats did open up in one exchange, too, when he was asked to talk about the situation hypothetically. Trump's intel chief said he's made clear to the administration he will not politicize intelligence.
    "I made it clear in my confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that my role and the role of the Director of National Intelligence is to provide information, intelligence information relevant to policy makers so that they can base their judgments on that," Coats said. "That any political shaping of that presentation or intelligence would not be appropriate. I have made my position clear on that to the administration and I intend to maintain that position."
    Who is DNI Dan Coats?
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    3. Brennan has not seen enough to call this "collusion," but he hasn't slammed the door shut

    Chalk up a small win for the White House, during an otherwise grueling morning: Brennan could not definitively say that he saw any evidence of collusion.
    "If someone left this hearing today and said that you had indicated that those contacts were evidence of collusion or collaboration, they would be misrepresenting your statements, correct?" asked Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican.
    Brennan responded: "I would say it was not an accurate portrayal of my statement."
    But before the White House celebrates, Brennan was also clear that he is not in a position to definitively rule out collusion.
    "I don't want to take this out of context. We see contacts, interactions, between Russian officials and US persons all the time. It is when it's in the context that there's something else going on. So we knew at the time that the Russians were involved in this effort to try to interfere in our election, so with that backdrop, and increasing indications that they were involved with that, seeing these types of contacts and interactions during the same period of time raised my concern," he said.

    4. The path to treason is not always clear

    Brennan -- a former analyst, versed in the recruitment of spies -- cautioned that Russian attempts to recruits spies inside the CIA itself has shown what should be obvious: Nobody ever directly announces themselves as a Russian spy when they are trying to recruit someone.
    "Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late," Brennan said.
    Brennan did not single out anyone, but his comments were an apparent reference to the Trump campaign. Intelligence sources have previously confirmed to CNN that former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page was being cultivated as a source for a Russian spy -- whether he knew it or not. Page has repeatedly denied that charge.

    5. Coats seems unconcerned with what Trump shared with the Russians

    Trump's apparent sharing of sensitive intelligence during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak has not set off any alarm bells for the director of national intelligence.
    New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich said Trump's sharing would be considered the "mother of all leaks" if he held any position in government besides president, which gives him the authority to declassify whatever he wants.
    Asked if it was dangerous for Trump to share the info, reportedly from the Israelis, with Russia, Coats responded: "Well I wasn't in the room and I don't know what the President shared, though I have read his public comments."
    Coats went on to say that he had "no awareness" of whether there was any process that occurred within the intelligence community to clear the sharing with Russia, and he said the intelligence community has not assessed the impact of the release.
    "We have not initiated an assessment of that," Coats said. "There are procedures that we go through to determine what assessments have been made or need to be made. There is a process that we go through to my understanding we have not initiated that."