At Intel Hearing, Harris Highlights Trump’s Conflict of Interest in Declassification of Nunes Memo

WASHINGTON, D.C. February 13, 2018 – At a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray on President Trump’s access to information and evidence from an investigation into the President’s own campaign.

“Do you believe there is an actual – or at least the appearance of – a conflict of interest when the President is put in charge of declassifying information that could complicate an ongoing investigation into his own campaign?” said Harris.

Harris noted the clear conflict of interest that exists and asked whether the President would have access to more information concerning the investigation into his campaign and that he could potentially receive more information of this kind from members of Congress.

Harris previously criticized the releases of the Nunes memo, calling it an effort to “weaponize classified information for political gain and expediency.”

In light of recent political attacks on the intelligence and law enforcement communities, Harris also thanked the men and women of the intelligence and law enforcement communities for their critical work in service to the American people. “I would like to emphasize the point that we all I think share in making, which is we thank the men and women of your agencies for their selfless work,” said Harris. “They do it on behalf of the American people without any expectation of award or reward and we cannot thank them enough for keeping us safe.”

Full transcript of Harris’ questioning below:

Harris:  Thank you. I want to echo the comments of my colleagues in thanking the men and women who serve in your agencies. I am concerned that the political attacks against the men and women of your agencies may have had an effect on your ability to recruit, retain, and also the morale of your agencies. So I would like to emphasize the point that we all I think share in making which is we thank the men and women of your agencies for their selfless work. They do it on behalf of the American people without any expectation of award or reward, and we cannot thank them enough for keeping us safe. Director Wray, Chairman Nunes’ memo included sensitive FISA information regarding a person who worked on the President’s campaign. According to the White House statement, the President was the one who authorized the memo’s declassification. Do you believe there is an actual – or at least the appearance of – a conflict of interest when the President is put in charge of declassifying information that could complicate an ongoing investigation into his own campaign?

Wray: Well, senator, as we have been very clear what our view was about the disclosure and accuracy of the memo in question, but I do think it’s the President’s role as Commander in Chief under the rule that was invoked to object or not to the declassification. So I think that is the President’s responsibility.

Harris: Regardless of whether there is an appearance or actual conflict of interest?

Wray: I leave it to others to characterize whether there’s appearance or actual conflict of interest, but I think the President was fulfilling his responsibility in that situation.

Harris: If the President asked you tomorrow to hand over to him additional sensitive FBI information on the investigations into his campaign, would you give it to him?

Wray: I am not going to discuss the investigation in question with the President, much less provide information from that investigation to him.

Harris: And if he received that information and wanted to declassify it, would he have the ability to do that from your perspective?

Wray: Information from the –

Harris: However he received it, perhaps from members of the United States Congress.

Wray: I think legally he would have that ability.

Harris: And do you believe the President should recuse himself from reviewing and declassifying sensitive FBI material related to this investigation?

Wray: I think recusal questions are something I would encourage the President to talk to White House counsel about.

Harris: Has the FBI done any kind of legal analysis on these questions?

Wray: Well happily, I am no longer in the business of doing legal analysis. I now get to be a client and blame lawyers for things instead of being the lawyer who gets blamed. So we have not-

Harris: Have you blamed any lawyers for their analysis of this issue?

Wray: What’s that?

Harris: Have you blamed any lawyers for their analysis?

Wray: I have not yet, no.

Harris questioning about counterintelligence threat from social media:

Harris: Okay. Is the FBI getting the cooperation it needs from social media companies to counter foreign adversaries’ influence on our elections?

Wray: I think the cooperation has been improving. I think we’re continuing to work with the social media companies to try to see how we can raise their awareness so that they can share information with us and vice versa. So I think things are moving in the right direction but I think there’s a lot of progress to be made.

Harris: What more do you need from social media companies to improve the partnership that you would like to have with them to counter the attacks?

Wray: Well, I think we always like to have more information shared more quickly from their end, but I think from their perspective, it’s a dialogue. They’re looking to get information from us about what it is we see so that they can give responsive information. So I think we’re working through those issues.

Harris: Do you believe that the social media companies have enough employees that have the appropriate security clearance to make these partnerships real?

Wray: That’s not an issue I’ve evaluated but I’d be happy to take a look at it.

Harris: Please do and then follow up with the committee. Director Coats, one of the things that makes guarding against foreign intelligence threats on social media so complex is that the threat originates overseas and so that would be within the jurisdiction of the CIA and the NSA and then it comes to our shores and then it passes onto the FBI and also the social media companies themselves. I’m not aware of any written IC strategy on how we would confront the threat to social media. Does such a strategy exist in writing?

Coats: I would have to get back with you on that. I would be happy to look into it. From my perspective right now, a written specific strategy is not in place but I want to check on that.

Harris questioning about WH refusal to implement Russia Sanctions:

Harris: Okay, please do follow up. Also last year, Congress passed a bipartisan Russia sanctions bill, however, the Administration has not imposed those sanctions. From an intelligence perspective, what is your assessment of how Russia interprets the Administration’s inaction?

Coats: I don’t have information relative to what the Russian thinking is in terms of that particular specific reaction. There are other sanctions, as you know, that are being imposed on Russian oligarchs and others through the United Nations and through other things that have been done in reference to the JCPOA. But specifically on your question, I don’t have an answer for that.

Pompeo: Senator Harris, may I just comment?

Harris: Yes.

Pompeo: I think we ought to look at that in a broader context, that is, how the Russians view all of the actions of this Administration, not just a particular set of sanctions or the absence thereof. So as we have watched the Russians respond to this Administration’s decision to provide defensive weapons in Ukraine, to push back against Russian efforts in Syria, sanctions placed on Venezuela were directly in conflict with Russian interests. The list of places that the Russians are feeling the pain from this Administration’s actions are long.

Harris: But Director Pompeo I’m sure you would agree that in order to understand the full scope of effect, it is also important that we analyze each discrete component, including what is the interpretation of this Administration’s failure to enact the sanctions as has been passed and directed by the United States Congress in a bipartisan manner. Have you done that assessment?

Pompeo: Senator, in closed session, I will tell you what we know and don’t know about that discrete issue.

Harris: Great.

Pompeo: And yes, I agree with you, it is important to look at each one in its own place. But I think what we most often see in terms of Russian response, it’s to the cumulative activities in response to Russian activities, and how the United States responds to those in a cumulative way.

Harris: Thank you, I look forward to our conversation.

Pompeo: Yes, ma’am.