WASHINGTON — Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said today his previous statements that he saw no evidence of Trump campaign collusion with Russia applied to the intelligence community assessment of Russian’s campaign influence operation, not to the ongoing FBI investigation.
At the beginning of January, the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency released a joint report on “Russia’s goals” to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency” in the 2016 election. Limited in scope, the report “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
On March 5, Clapper was asked by host Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press: “Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?”
“We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, ‘our,’ that’s NSA, FBI and CIA, with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report,” Clapper replied.
“I understand that. But does it exist?” Todd pressed.
“Not to my knowledge,” Clapper said.
At Monday’s Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the Russia investigation, chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Clapper about that interview. The former DNI said it was a “possibility” that the intelligence investigation into collusion was not mature enough to be included in the report
Former FBI Director James Comey told Congress in March that the investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia had been ongoing since July.
The multi-agency report on Russian hacking and other elements of their campaign influence operation was the result of a review President Obama requested of the intelligence community in early December.
President Trump tweeted this morning, “When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?”
Clapper went on MSNBC today to first clarify that the FBI is in the unique position of straddling intelligence and law enforcement, and stressed that he always deferred to the FBI director on “whether, when and what to tell me about a counterintelligence investigation when there was the possibility there that this could devolve into some sort of a criminal investigation.”
“It’s not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation or, even more importantly, the content of that investigation. So I don’t know if there was collusion or not. I don’t know if there’s evidence of collusion or not — nor should I have, in this particular context,” Clapper said.
He added that his office was focused on the intelligence community assessment report concluding that Russia did aim to influence the 2016 election, and “there was no evidence [of collusion] that rose to that level at that time that found its way into the intelligence community assessment, which we had pretty high confidence in — that’s not to say there wasn’t evidence, but not that met that threshold.”
Clapper had announced his retirement in November, and stepped down as planned when Trump was sworn into office.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer argued today that since Clapper was the director of national intelligence until Jan. 20 he should have been in the know.
“Director Clapper has said that he has no knowledge of any collusion. That’s it,” Spicer said.
Spicer said “I understand” when a reporter noted that the FBI investigation is ongoing, then added, “Then why did he say what he said before? It seems his testimony and comments on multiple occasions prior to today was, ‘I have no evidence that there was any collusion,’ right?”
“So, to suddenly today shift his story, I believe that the question should be asked to him, ‘You were the director of national intelligence. You said multiple times, including in testimony in front of Congress under oath, that there was no collusion.’ I believe that that’s a question for him,” Spicer said.
“I think in this case, it is interesting how the story has changed… the burden seems to be on him, not us.”