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Ex-CIA Chief Brennan Complained To FSB Director In August Of Election Meddling

Former CIA director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington on May 23.

WASHINGTON -- Former CIA Director John Brennan said he spoke directly to the head of Russia's main security agency last summer, complaining about the harassment of U.S. diplomats and apparent Russian efforts to meddle in the presidential election campaign.

Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee that the conversation with Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Aleksandr Bortnikov occurred on August 4, as the U.S. presidential campaign was ramping up.

In his testimony to the House committee on May 23, Brennan said he told Bortnikov that continued Russian interference would backfire and prevent any warming of relations between Moscow and Washington.

Bortnikov responded that he would discuss the issue with President Vladimir Putin, Brennan said.

"I believe I was the first U.S. official to brace the Russians on this matter," he told the committee.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the U.S. allegations.

Brennan's remarks come as the scope and pace of investigations into Russia's alleged election meddling increases, along with congressional and FBI probes into the communications between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian officials.

"It should be clear to everyone Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 presidential election process and that they undertook these activities despite our strong protests and explicit warning that they do not do so," he said.

Those suspicions have shadowed Trump's administration since he took office in January.

The same month that Brennan spoke to Bortnikov, the FBI opened an investigation into possible collusion between Trump's associates and Russian officials.

Collusion 'Worthy Of Investigation'

Among the officials whose actions are under scrutiny are Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser. He was fired in February after he misled White House officials about the nature of his interactions with Russian officials, including Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

Earlier this month, Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, triggering a political uproar in Washington. The New York Times later reported that Trump had pressed Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn.

That prompted more concern that the White House was attempting to obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation. Ultimately, it led the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to oversee the agency's probes into the Trump administration.

Concern deepened on May 10, the day after Comey's firing, when Trump hosted an unusual White House meeting with Kislyak and visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The New York Times later reported that Trump told Lavrov that Comey's firing had relieved pressure on the White House.

During the May 23 House hearing, Brennan, who resigned as CIA director in January, was pressed on whether he saw intelligence indicating collusion or coordination between Trump associates and Russian officials.

Brennan suggested he had.

"I saw information and intelligence that was worthy of investigation by the [FBI] to determine whether or not such cooperation or collusion was taking place," he said. "I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign.”

At a simultaneous hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the current director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, was asked about a Washington Post report that said Trump had asked him and the head of the National Security Agency to publicly deny any collusion between the White House and Russian officials.

Coats did not deny the report, but said he didn't want to publicly discuss his conversations with Trump.

Flynn, meanwhile, has refused to comply with a subpoena order by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has taken the lead in looking into Russian ties involving Trump associates. Flynn's lawyer sent the committee a letter on May 22 saying Flynn would be invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

The Republican and Democratic chairmen of the Senate committee signaled on May 23 that they weren't giving up, announcing they were subpoenaing two of Flynn's businesses for related documents.

Republican Richard Burr said Flynn could be held in contempt of Congress if he continued to defy the committee.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.