Republican U.S. Rep. Peter King (NY) leaked classified information during Monday’s public hearing on the FBI investigation into connections between Pres. Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government.
According to Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker, in a little-noticed moment of the five-hour hearing, King revealed to the world what members of the House Intelligence Committee could only read in a classified report, “that historically Russians have supported Republicans.”
A Democrat on the Intelligence Committee told Lizza that this revelation has been the subject of a major debate among the 16 spy agencies that are known collectively as the intelligence community or IC, but that debate has been kept out of the public eye. Republicans, the House member said, would not want the public to know that Russia considers the U.S. a weaker adversary under GOP rule.
“I was really taken aback that it came up in the hearing,” said the representative. “I might just observe to you, if there was such a conclusion, you can bet that the Republicans would have pushed back very, very hard about such a conclusion. And I don’t want to say more than that.”
At the hearing, the topic initially came up when committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) posed the question to Comey, asking wouldn’t it be “preposterous to think that Russia historically, going back to Ronald Reagan and all that we know about maybe who the Russians would prefer, that somehow the Russians prefer Republicans over Democrats?”
Comey immediately shut down the line of questioning, saying, “I’m not going to discuss in an unclassified forum. In the classified segment of the reporting version that we did, there is some analysis that discusses this because, remember, this did come up in our assessment on the Russian piece.”
This was when King said, “I would just say on that because, again, we’re not going into the classified sections, that indicating that historically Russians have supported Republicans, and I know that language is there, to me puts somewhat of a cloud over the entire report.”
King publicly cited classified information as a means of attempting to smear the whole report’s veracity. If the report claims Republicans make the U.S. weaker, he posited, then the whole thing must be false.
Lizza spoke to King this week and said the congressman claims to have become confused about which portions of the Russia report were classified and which were not.
“I have to watch myself,” said King. “I think it was in the public report that came out, the unclassified report, that there was a finding in there that historically—so don’t quote me on this, O.K.? Because I’m not sure if this was the classified or the unclassified, but there was a conclusion that historically the Russians have favored Republicans.”
Lizza spoke to a former KGB agent named Oleg Kalugin — a press officer in the Russian embassy during the Nixon era — who said that information is false.
“We always supported the Democrats. The Soviets, and the Russians after the collapse of the U.S.S.R., have been essentially in favor of the Democratic Party, because it represented the more moderate part of the United States’ political life, while the Republicans are more reactionary. The Republicans are viewed as more aggressive and anti-Communist, and that’s why the Soviets and, subsequently, the Russians would rather deal with the Democrats,” Kalugin said.
Kalugin and other experts who Lizza spoke with said that anti-Democratic Party animus only became the Kremlin’s position in the race between Pres. Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin considers an especial foe.
“The intelligence community is highly confident that Putin specifically wanted a Trump victory,” Lizza said. “Republicans are skeptical and will continue to seize on this historical judgment to undermine the broader conclusions.”
Historical data, however, shows that the perception of a threatening, aggressive enemy can function as a galvanizing factor among certain groups. Racist hate group activity in the U.S. increased 755 percent during Pres. Barack Obama’s term. In August of last year, intercepted communications between recruiters for Islamic extremist group ISIS showed that the terror group wanted Donald Trump to win the White House because his virulently anti-Muslim rhetoric would prove to be an invaluable recruiting tool.
In 2016, King called for journalists who publish classified leaks to be prosecuted, saying, “(T)here is an obligation, both moral but also legal, I believe, against a reporter disclosing something which would so severely compromise national security.”