Former CIA chief John Brennan has said the agency had proof of contacts between Russia and members of US president Donald Trump's campaign team last year, but he stopped short of accusing members of the Trump team of "collusion" with Russia.
Appearing before the House Intelligence Committee in Washington on Tuesday, Mr Brennan said he had encountered and was aware of "information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and US persons involved in the Trump campaign".
“I was concerned about [it] because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals, and it raised questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians were able to gain the co-operation of those individuals.”
Under questioning from Republicans who asked whether any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia had been found, he said: “I don’t know whether such collusion existed, but I know that there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether or not if US persons were actively conspiring or colluding with Russian officials.”
Mr Brennan said he had warned Moscow against interfering in the US presidential election, confirming that an FBI investigation had been opened in July.
“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 not do so,” he said.
In a separate testimony to a House committee, Dan Coats, the current director of national intelligence, declined to confirm whether the US president had asked him to deny evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as reported by the Washington Post on Monday. He said it was "not appropriate" to discuss his conversations with the president.
The political fallout from a string of controversies surrounding Russia’s links with members of the Trump campaign team has continued despite Mr Trump’s absence from Washington as he undertakes his first foreign trip as president.
Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed this week that sacked national security adviser Mike Flynn has refused to testify at the committee, citing his right under the fifth amendment of the constitution not to testify in order to avoid self-incrimination.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration submitted its proposed budget for 2018 to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, paving the way for protracted negotiations about the final shape of the federal budget for next year.
The $4.1 trillion budget proposes a sharp increase in defence spending, a cut in the foreign aid budget, less money for agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and cuts to anti-poverty programmes including the food stamp programme and Medicaid, the programme offering healthcare assistance to the lower-paid. It also carves out $2.6 billion for border and defence matters, $1.6 billion of which will be used to commence work on the border wall.
Ahead of the announcement, Mick Mulvaney, the head of the office of budget and management, said that Trump's budget represented a new way of looking at the federal budget, one that focused on what is best for those paying taxes rather than those receiving money.
“We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programmes or the number of people on those programmes, but by the number of people we help get off of those programmes,” he said.
Democrat representative Richard Neal said the proposed budget is "nothing more than a long list of broken promises to the American people", which will hit lower- and middle-class Americans.
The administration’s promise to balance the budget within 10 years was greeted with scepticism by some members of the House and economists, who noted that the plan was based on a prediction of economic growth of 3 per cent of gross domestic product.