Russia waged a conspicuous campaign to undermine the American political process and will continue attempting to do so in coming years, top intelligence and law enforcement officials told lawmakers Monday.
The assessment from FBI director James Comey came midway through a five-and-a-half hour House Intelligence Committee hearing, during which Comey confirmed that the FBI is investigating potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“[The Russians] were unusually loud in their intervention,” Comey said. “It is almost as if they didn’t care that we know what they were doing, or that they wanted us to see what they were doing. It was very noisy.”
The intelligence community reported in January that Russia waged a cyber and disinformation campaign to undermine faith in the democratic process, discredit Hillary Clinton, and help Donald Trump’s campaign.
“It might be that [the Russians] wanted us to help them by telling people what they were doing,” Comey continued. “By telling the American people what we saw and freaking people out about how the Russians might be undermining our elections successfully.”
Comey said Monday that the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russian election interference since late July. Leaders in Congress were only recently briefed on the investigation due to “the sensitivity of the matter,” he said.
“They wanted to hurt our democracy, hurt her, help him,” Comey said. “All three we were confident in at least as early as December.”
Comey and NSA director General Mike Rogers said they expected Russia to continue trying to subvert the democratic process.
“They’ll be back in 2020, they may be back in 2018,” Comey said. “One of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful, because they introduced chaos, and division, and discord … it is possible they are misreading that as, it worked, and so we’ll come back and hit them again.”
That line of questioning, which came from Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, diverged from the norm at Monday’s hearing. Many lawmakers posed charged questions that stressed the partisan divide underlying the committee probe into illicit Russian activities.
South Carolina congressman Trey Gowdy pushed back against potential criticism of the partisan divide as the hearing came to a close.
“The fact that someone may have had a line of questions about leaks does not mean that they’re not interested in all aspects of Russia,” he said. “And vice versa, the fact that they may not have asked questions about leaks doesn’t mean they’re not interested in them.”
Many Republican members focused on leaks and possible surveillance abuses related to Trump associates, especially those precipitating Flynn’s resignation.
Flynn departed in February after reports revealed that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about pre-inaugural conversations he had with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
Comey condemned leaks of classified information generally. He would not answer about specific leaks.
“Any unauthorized disclosure of classified conversations or documents is potentially a violation of the law and a serious, serious problem,” Comey said.
The volume of reports about classified information seems to have spiked in recent months, he added.
“Leaks have always been a problem,” Comey said. “But I do think in the last six weeks, couple of months, there has been, at least apparently, a lot of conversation about classified matters that’s ending up in the media.”
Democrats, meanwhile, honed in on what the committee’s ranking member Adam Schiff described Sunday as “circumstantial evidence” of collusion between the Trump team and the Kremlin.
“At the outset of the investigation, there was circumstantial evidence of collusion,” he said. “There was direct evidence, I think, of deception.”
Schiff and other Democrats left open the possibility for collusion Monday. They chronicled, for the record, events leading up to and following the election—including the summer controversy surrounding former Trump campaign adviser Paul Manafort and the February resignation of former national security adviser Mike Flynn.
Comey and Rogers would not answer questions about whether they had seen evidence of collusion. Nor would they answer specific questions about Trump associates, including Manafort and Roger Stone.
As the hearing wound down, Republican lawmakers appeared frustrated about the host of remaining questions.
Gowdy urged Comey and Rogers to “find the facts.”
“What’s really important is what you do after this hearing,” he said. “Right now, you can’t answer most of the questions, either by policy, by law, or because the investigation has not been completed.”
Nunes pressed Comey to work speedily through the investigation, especially for questions that pertain to Trump administration officials.
“There’s a big gray cloud that you’ve now put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country,” he said. “The faster that you can get to the bottom of this, it’s going to be better for all Americans.”
He told reporters after the hearing that the witnesses were not as forthcoming as he had anticipated.
“I think they need to say more,” Nunes said. “I don’t think it was nearly as fruitful as it should’ve been.”
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard