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Senate Intellgence Committee Press Event. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired October 4, 2017 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. RICHARD BURR, R-NC, INTEL CMTE CHMN: Again, not closed, open for the continuation.
The last one I want to cover is the Comey memos. This topic has been hotly debated, and the committee is satisfied that our involvment with this issue has reached a logical end as it relates to the Russia investigation. Now, again, this is not something that we've closed, but we have exhausted every person that we can talk to to get information that's pertinent to us, relative to the Russia investigation. Questions that you might have surrounding Comey's firing are better answered by the General Counsel or by the Justice Department, not the Select Committee of Intelligence in the United States Senate.
There are concerns that we continue to pursue. Collusion, the committee continues to look into all evidence to see if there was any hint of collusion. Now, I'm not gonna even discuss initial findings because we haven't any. We've got a tremendous amount of documents, still, to go through.
And, just to put it in perspective, I said we've done over 100 interviews, over 250 hours. We currently have booked, for the balance of this month, 25 additional interviews. That may not end up being the total but, as of today, there are 25 individuals booked to meet with our staffs before the end of this month alone, pertaining to the Russian investigation.
We have more work to do as it relates to collusion, but we're developing a clearer picture of what happened. What I will confirm is that the Russian Intelligence Service is determined, clever, and I recommend that every campaign and every election official take this very seriously as we move into this November's election and as we move into preparation for the 2018 election.
I'm going to ask the vice chairman to cover the other areas that we're in the process of pursuing.
SEN. MARK WARNER, D-VA, INTEL CMTE VICE CHMN: Thank you, Richard.
And I want to say at the outset, again. I'm very proud of this committee, I'm proud of the way the committee has acted, I'm proud of our staff and the enormous amount of work they have done. I know the chairman and I see many of you daily in the hallways, and know that this feels like it's taking a long time. It is taking a long time. But getting it right and getting all the facts is what we owe the American people. And, as we've seen -- for example, stories that emerged in the -- in
the late summer around, you know, Mr. Trump Jr.'s meeting or the (ph) possibilities of a Trump Tower Moscow. You know, the chairman and I would love to find ways to close things down but we also still see strains and threads that we need to continue to pursue.
I want to talk -- touch on two subjects. The first is, echoing what Richard's already said, the Russian active measures efforts did not end on Election Day, 2016. They were not only geared at the United States of America. We have seen Russian active measures take place in France, we've seen concerns raised in the Netherlands, we've seen concerns raised in Germany, and we need to be on guard.
One of the things that has -- that is (ph) particularly troubling, to both of us, is the fact that, become evident, that 21 states' electoral systems were -- not all penetrated, but there was at least -- there was at least trying to open the door in these 21 states.
It has been very disappointing to me, and I believe the chairman as well, that it took 11 months for the Department of Homeland Security to reveal those 21 states. And still don't know why, exactly, last Friday was the date they chose to reveal that information. But still believe there needs to be a more aggressive whole (ph)-of-government approach, in terms of protecting our electoral system.
Remember, to make a change, even in a national election, doesn't require penetration into 50 states, arguably. And states like the chairman's and mine could be key. You could pick two or three states in two or three jurisdictions, and alter an election.
And I believe in a state like mine, where in -- in Virginia and New Jersey, in 34 days, we have elections. I'm glad to see the DHS have said they are going to up their game and, particularly, help those states with elections that are happening this year. But we need to make sure that there is an organized, again, whole (ph)-of-government approach.
I know in Virginia, for example, even before we discovered that we were one of the 21 states, I think the state electoral board, in an abundance of caution, de-certified one set of machines that were touch-screens that didn't have, kind of, a paper ballot or a paper trail to this (ph).
One of things we wanted to emphasize with this briefing, that this is an ongoing concern and that, if states don't proactively move forward very shortly, we'll be getting into primary seasons early on in 2018. And this is a -- this is an ongong challenge. And, again, I'd point out, even after last week, Wisconsin, Texas and California still have some lack of clarity about whether the appropriate individuals were notified.
I also want to raise an issue that the chairman and I have been working jointly on as well. And that is, the Russians' use of social media platforms. Social media platforms that, increasingly, the vast majority of us turn to for information, for news, in a way that is very different. If you look, for example, in the realm of political advertising, we've
seen an over-700 percent increase in the use of digital political advertising between 2012 and 2016. The expectation is, that may double or triple again, in terms of the next election cycle, because of the ability to so (ph) target voters.
I was concerned, at first, that some of these social media platform companies did not take this threat seriously enough. I believe they are recognizing that threat now. They have provided us with information. We think it's important that the three companies that we've invited, Google, Twitter, and Facebook, will appear in a public hearing so that Americans can, again, hear both about how we're going to protect, I would argue, three areas.
One, making sure that, if you see an ad that appears on a social media site, that Americans can know whether the source of that ad was generated by foreign entities. Two, to make sure that, if you see a story that is trending and becoming more popular, whether that trending is because a series of Americans are liking that story or liking that particular page, where (ph) that's generated by real individuals or whether that's generated by bots. Or, in some cases, it may be false identity -- falsely-identified accounts. For example, Facebook has indicated between 30,000 -- 30 and 50,000 such accounts were taken down in France because -- due to Russian interference.
And, third, just the notion that both of us have been in politics a long time. If you have somebody running an ad for you, against you, you ought to be able to -- be able to go down and take, at least, a look at that content. The same way that, if ads are run for or against you on TV, radio, or newsprint, you can at least get a look at that content.
This is an ongoing process but we're seeing increasing levels of cooperation. And, with that, I'll turn it back over to the chairman. Be happy to take questions.
BURR: Let me just say that many of you have asked us, "Are we going to release the Facebook ads?" We don't release documents provided to our committee, period. Let me say it again. The Senate Intelligence Committee does not release documents provided by witnesses, companies, whoever they -- whatever the classificiation, it's not a practice that we're going to get into.
Clearly, if any of the social media platforms would like to do that, we're fine with them doing it because we've already got scheduled an open hearing because we believe the American people deserve to hear firsthand.
And, just to remind people, on October the 25th we will have another open hearing, number 12, with Michael Cohen. On November 1st, we have invited the social media companies that Mark mentioned to be our guests at an open hearing. And we feel confident that they will take us up on it.
As it relates to the Steele dossier, unfortunately the committee has hit a wall. We have, on several occasions, made attempts to contact Mr. Steele; to meet with Mr. Steele; to include, personally, the vice chairman and myself as two individuals making that connection. Those offers have gone unaccepted.
The committee cannot really decide the credibility of the dossier without understanding things like, who paid for it? Who are your sources and sub-sources? We're investigating a very expansive Russian network of interference in U.S. elections. And though we have been incredibly enlightened at our ability to rebuild backwards, the Steele dossier, up to a certain date, getting past that point has been somewhat impossible.
And I say this because I don't think we're going to find any intelligence products that unlock that key to pre-June of '16. My hope is that Mr. Steele will make a decision to meet with either Mark and I or the committe or both, so that we can hear his side of it. Versus for us to depict, in our findings, what his intent or what his actions were. And I say that to you but I also say it to Chris Steele.
Potential witnesses that we might ask to come in in the future: I strongly suggest that you come in and speak with us. If we believe that you have something valuable to bring to the committee, if you don't voluntarily do it I wll assure you, today, you will be compelled to do it. I can compel you to come, I can't compel you to talk. But that will be in a -- very public, done in a very public way, if, in fact, you turn down the private offer.
The committee has proven to be balanced, professional, and that we're willing to listen to everybody. Let me say (ph) in closing. For those following our investigation in the press, I want you to know that you only see glimpses of the amount of work the committee has done. We're doing much of our work behind closed doors to ensure the privacy and the protection of witnesses and sensitive sources and methods.
It's become increasingly clear that the committee has stayed focused on building the foundation to be able to finish our investigation thoroughly and in an accountable way. I'm confident today that, when we started, we chose wisely by choosing our professional staff to do this investigation. And not to the talking heads all around the country that suggested we couldn't do this unless we went out and hired a whole new group. And I think the numbers here reflect that.
Ultimately, we look forward to completing our work and presenting our findings to the public. I can't set a date as to when that will be, Mark can't set a date as to when that can be. We will share with you when we have exhausted every thread of intelligence, every potential witness that can contribute anything to this.
I don't, by any stretch of the imagination, tell you that there's been value to everybody we've met with. But if we hadn't met with them, then you would have questioned us as to why we didn't. Now the truth is, nobody in this room but -- and Mark and I might be included in it, none of us in this room may know everybody we've met with. We're not going to share who we interview, we're not going to share what we ask and we're certainly not going to share what they tell us. We're not going to share with you the documents that we got but, when
you receive 100,000 documents-plus, a large group of that coming from the Trump campaign alone. When you look at this country's most sensitive intelligence products, let me assure you. We're going to get the best view of what happened that anybody could possibly get.
At the end of this process, we will be sure that we present to the American people our findings as best we have been able to accumulate them. So, wtih that, I'll be happy to open it for questions.
QUESTION: Thank you, thank you. Have you seen any evidence of a nexus (ph) between these Russian facebook ads with the Trump campaign or with any political (inaudible)?
BURR: We haven't even had our hearing with any of the social media platforms. I think if you look from 10,000 feet, the subject matter of the ads was -- seems to have been to create chaos in every group that they could possibly identify in America.
From a standpoint of any involvement, let us have the opportunity to have these folks in, ask them the questions. In many cases they didn't even take advantage of -- of some of the most technical targeting tools that exist within those social media companies. So I would defer answering your question until we've completed the investigation.
WARNER: And let me just -- let me just add you (ph). I believe, and I think we will -- you will see that there will be more forensics done by these companies. Again, when we just look at scale, France versus the United States, for example, on one of the platorms, Facebook, in terms of what happened, I think they've got some more work to do and I'm pleased to say I think they are out doing that work now.
QUESTION: Senator, Senator. The president has said, repeatedly, that any talk of collusion is a hoax. I mean, you've gone through all these documents, you've interviewed all these people. At this point, is the president right? Is this a hoax?
BURR: I'm going to let you guys quote the president and ask him questions about what he says. It's not going to be the committee. We're going through a very different (ph) process (ph).
QUESTION: Do you have any evidence to suggest or rule out that the president knew anything about any of these contacts that occurred between any of this associates and the Russians?
BURR: Let me go back and say -- because I thought I was pretty clear -- that the issue of collusion is still open, that we continue to investigate both intelligence and witnesses, and that we're not in a position where we will come to any type of temporary finding on that until we've completed the process. Thank you.
QUESTION: You say that the issue of collusion is still open. Are you pursuing the question of whether there's a link between the ads that appeared on social media sites and the Trump campaign?
BURR: Well, let me just say that -- I'll (ph) let Mark address it if he'd like to -- if there was any connection that would be pertinent to our investigation of Russia's influence in the elections. We have had incredible access and cooperation by those social media companies that have been in. Some of them have been interviewed twice.
At the end of the day, we'll be prepared to ask the right questions, that may answer some of your questions, at that open hearing.
WARNER: But we also have to get...
WARNER: ... we have to get the universe first. I was concerned, on the front end, that the first pass was not a thorough enough pass. For example, I've cited the fact that, in one interview (ph), that the only ads that were produced were those that were paid for in rubles. Obviously there are various forms of payment.
So I -- I think -- I think the companies are increasingly understanding that their actions need to match their public statements, that they realize how important it is to maintain the integrity of our democratic process.
QUESTION: Did you call on (inaudible) to release those ads?
WARNER: I think, at the end of the day, it's important that the public sees these ads.
QUESTION: Senator Burr, two questions. You talked about the level of cooperation that you've gotten from Obama administration officials. Can you characterize the level of cooperation and candor you've seen from Trump campaign officials and those in the Trump orbit?
BURR: I can't think of a Trump campaign official that we have asked to come in that has not -- that has not come in. Is that pretty accurate? There are some individuals that may have been involved in the Trump campaign that, to this point, we might have limited the scope of our questions but with the full intent of them coming back when we knew a little bit more and had pulled a few more intelligence threads.
QUESTION: So far, when you compare what they've said to you to the documents that you've reviewed, do you find that they've been truthful, by and large?
BURR: I don't think that -- I think our interviews, to this point, outside of the five specific areas or (ph) buckets that we knew exactly what the universe of people we wanted to talk to, we knew what we were trying to find out. That we're very much in an exploratory mode, trying to piece together what people did, where they were, who they talked to.
In most cases, we have accessed email records, text messages, phone records -- voluntarily. Usually when you get something like that voluntarily, somebody's probably going to tell you the truth when they answer the questions. But the reason that we can't definitively answer some of your questions today is, we will take everything that our staff has put in the transcripts and we will test that against every piece of intelligence and other interviews that we've done.
To suggest that we've done that to everybody, thoroughly, would be misleading you. So let us go through that process. But I will assure that, if somebody has come in and not been truthful with us, we will catch them on that and they will come back and that will be the subject of great intensity (inaudible)...
QUESTION: Senators, a question for both of you. Based on the work done so far, what's your assessment of what the Russians did do in 2016, what they're doing now, and what (inaudible) portends for the future?
WARNER: I'll just say that there is large consensus that they hacked into political files, released those files in an effort to influence the election. We think they actively tried to at least test the vulnerabilities of 21 states' electoral systems. And we feel that they used the social media firms, both in terms of paid of advertising and -- what I believe is more problematic -- created false accounts, and others, that would drive interest towards stories or groups. And, generally, those stories or groups were to sow chaos and drive division in our country.
And I think that the pattern that they used in America, they have used in other nations around the world and I fear, sometimes, if you add up all they've spent, it was a decent rate of return for them. Unfortunately.
BURR: Let me add to it if I can. We can certifiably say that no vote totals were affected. That the tallies are accurate, the outcome of the election, based upon the count of votes. They did not, in any way, shape or form that we've been able to find, alter that.
I want to reiterate something that Mark said. You can't walk away from this and believe that Russia's not currently active in trying to create chaos in our election process. I assume that the same tactics that we saw in Montenegro, in France, in Belgium and in the United States will continue to be tested within our structure of the election process here at home.
QUESTION: Thank you, Senator. Pivoting off that point, you just have (ph) noted that Facebook, they say 10 million people saw their ads. There was an information campaign waged (ph) against one candidate by the Russians, and, of course, they probed 21 states. Perhaps more that we didn't catch.
So can you definitely look at the American public, Senator Burr, and say that the election was not influenced, in any way, by this massive Russian operation?
BURR: Well, let me take issue with your -- the premise of your question. Neither Mark or I said that there was a campaign targeted against one. We're looking at both campaigns.
QUESTION: Well, that's what the ICA has said.
BURR: The ICA did not look at collusion of the campaigns. The ICA looked at Russian -- let me, let me finish. Russian involvement in the election process. We're in agreement with that. We have not come to any determination on collusion or Russia's preferences. If we used solely the social media that we have (ph) seen, there's no way that you can look at that and say that that was to help the Right side of the ideological chart and -- and -- and not the Left. Or vice versa. They were indiscriminate.
One of the things that's most challenging to this investigation is, with the exception of certain pieces that have already been discussed, it seems that the overall theme of the Russian involvement in the U.S. elections was to create chaos at every level. And I would tell you, the fact that we're sitting here nine months later, investigating it, they have been pretty darn successful.
QUESTION: Charman Burr, how would you rate the administration and the country's response to this, in terms of preventing something like this from happening in the future? And, you know, how ready are we for Virginia's election and 2018? What more needs to be done?
BURR: I'll let Mark address Virginia. But let me just say this. Our role is not to, necessarily, suggest, "Here are the things we need to do." Our investigation should create a road map for committees of the proper jurisdiction to follow, for states to follow.
Mark and I made a decision to take the initiative in our authorization bill, that we require, in our authorization bill, that there be a designated person in every state who has a security clearance to be briefed on election issues. We couldn't say secretary of state because that's not the case in every state. But we felt compelled, with what we had learned, to make sure that just the fact that somebody wasn't cleared at a high-enough level, would put a state out there not being notified.
So we've made some steps in the right direction, as we see those things that we think it's appropriate for us to do, we will do them. If we see them and (ph) it's not appropriate for us to do, we will hopefully convey that in a way that presents a road map for somebody (ph) else.
QUESTION: Let me -- let me just ask one...
QUESTION: (inaudible) the administration is paying a close-enough level of attention to this, that they're appropriately (ph) concerned?
WARNER: Let me, let me add. And I appreciate what you just said, thank you. Putting this impetus in our intel bill -- I mean, it was, it seemed very strange to me that, somehow, there was an excuse being given, "We can't tell the top election official because he or she may not have a high enough clearance."
I'm glad to see, as of last Friday, DHS has changed that position. I do believe we need more -- and this is, I would say that whether it's this administration or any administration. A whole-of-government approach about protecting our electoral system, but we need a whole- of-government approach -- for that matter, maybe a whole-society approach in terms of our cyber vulnerabilities across the board.
I came from a hearing this morning where there was pretty uniform consensus that the Equifax breach -- where most of our private personal financial information may be in the hands, now, of -- of rogue elements -- that there wasn't appropriate cyber protections there. So this is -- this is that, this is why I characterized some of it as the Wild Wild West. This whole realm in cyber, we all need to step our game.
QUESTION: Senator, has the Russian lawyer who -- whose...
BURR: I'm going to go right here.
QUESTION: ... (inaudible) Donald Trump, is she...
BURR: Thank you. I'm going to go right here.
QUESTION: ... (inaudible) for you?
QUESTION: Do you think that this report needs to be done, your conclusion needs to happen before the 2018 election in order to warn people about what can happen next, and where do you think the most work needs to be done?
BURR: I'm not going to set an artificial deadline, but I think -- I think Mark and I would agree. We've -- we've got to make (ph) our facts, as it relates to Russia's involvement in our election, public prior to the primaries getting started in 2018. Which means sometime in the first (ph) year.
It's still my aspirational goal to finish the entire investigation this calendar year. Don't think I've changed (ph). But when we started nine months ago, I saw three buckets and, today, I talked about five or six. So I didn't dream, then, what would -- what would expand to. I can't predict what witnesses are gonna share with us that might lead us in a different direction.
WARNER: And one of the things is that, again, I think the committee has been very good at is, you know, we're going to follow the facts. And we want to do it as quickly as possible, but we want to do it right and follow the facts.
QUESTION: Is the Russian attorney going to come through, the Russian attorney who met with Donal Trump Jr.? She's offered to come in open committee. Have you reached out to her, is she one of the 25 on your list?
BURR: How do you know we haven't already interviewed her?
QUESTION: I didn't say you did. I'm asking.
BURR: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. Is -- this is a question for both of you. Is there any progress forward on creating legislation that would create new rules for regulating how political advertising works on these platforms? That Republicans have discussed with Democrats. I know that you and Senator Klobuchar are working on (inaudible)...
WARNER: Yeah. Yeah. Senator Klobuchar and I are working on something and -- and that would, I believe, be the lightest touch possible. And that light touch would focus on making sure that foreign paid-for advertising doesn't penetrate our political system, and that there was an ability to at least look at the content that appears in political campaigns, the same way that -- similar to the rules that the rest of media already have.
I want to make sure we get -- we're hoping (ph) to finish that draft in the coming days. And I can assure you that one of the first people I want to share that with is my chairman, because this ought to be an area where, I think, there would be broad bipartisan consensus.
My -- and my hope, at least, from some of the comments of some of the companies, I've heard at least comments that they are open to this type of disclosure.