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Was ‘Gang of Eight’ Properly Briefed on Russia?

Top Democrat on House Intelligence Committee has his doubts

California Rep. Adam B. Schiff says he didn't think the select group of lawmakers on intelligence matters had received the kinds of briefings they should have. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
California Rep. Adam B. Schiff says he didn't think the select group of lawmakers on intelligence matters had received the kinds of briefings they should have. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee indicated Thursday that the select group of House and Senate members on intelligence matters was not adequately briefed on Russian issues ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

California Rep. Adam B. Schiff emerged from a roughly-three hour House Intelligence hearing with FBI Director James B. Comey, saying he had “absolutely” learned new information that the so-called gang of eight had not previously been looped in on.

The chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, along with the top party leaders in each chamber, receive additional secret national security information that other members do not receive.

“These are issues that should have been brought to the gang of eight, at a minimum. If we’re to get quarterly counterintelligence briefings, then we need the confidence of knowing that they’re briefing us on the most significant issues,” Schiff said.

“At this point, I think that’s very much in question,” he added. “I don’t think at all we’ve gotten the kind of quarterly briefings that we should have been getting. Not now, not in the summer, not in the fall and not even to this day.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer was asked at a news conference earlier in the day if the gang of eight was briefed about the newly reported interactions between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States.

But the New York Democrat declined to comment on the proceedings of the select group.

Schiff followed House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes after the closed Comey briefing, and the two Californians had conflicting perspectives on the FBI chief’s candor.

“He was very forthright,” Nunes said of Comey. “Clearly, there was a lot more information that we need from the director and from other intelligence agencies, but I thought today was a good first step.”

Nunes said he had no evidence of conversations between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian entities, other than the confirmed interaction between former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Kislyak.

“I think [the Intelligence Committee] is the appropriate place for this do be done,” he said. “We have, the legislative branch has, the House Intelligence Committee … has very broad jurisdiction over intelligence agencies. We have a bipartisan agreement, and as I’ve always said, this is a long ongoing investigation.”

Nunes said the panel was looking not only at potential cyberactivities against the United States and efforts to meddle in U.S. elections, but also at Russia’s activities in elections around the world. 

Schiff took a more skeptical view of Comey’s willingness to provide the committee with information needed to conduct a thorough investigation through the Intelligence Committee.

“On the areas he was willing to discuss, we had a very in-depth set of questions and answers, but there were very large areas that were walled off,” Schiff said. “Those walls are going to have to come down if we’re going to do our job.”

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