On Wednesday night, former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper argued that Russian meddling in the 2016 election was responsible for Donald Trump’s victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In his book “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence,” Clapper wrote that he had “no doubt” of this.
“Of course, the Russian effort affected the outcome. Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win,” Clapper wrote in his book. “To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense, and credulity to the breaking point.”
Clapper himself spoke with Jake Tapper on CNN Wednesday. Tapper noted that the official intelligence report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election published last January did not conclude that Russia swung the election to Trump.
“This is more than you stated when you were Director of National Intelligence and you and your fellow intelligence officials put out that report — you avoided making a conclusion one way or the other about whether or not it had an impact. Have you learned more information or is this just you speaking as a private individual?” Tapper asked Clapper.
“Both,” the former DNI responded. “To be clear, we did not — and that was very deliberate — did not make any assessment or any call about what impact the meddling had on the outcome of the election. That wasn’t in our charter authority or capability to do.”
Even so, Clapper continued, “since I became the private citizen, knowing what I know of what the Russians did, the massive effort they undertook and the variety of means that they used and the number of millions and millions of voters they got to, to me it stretches credulity, as I said in the book, and logic, not to think that they didn’t swing the election given the fact it turned out less than 80,000 votes in three states.”
“So that is what I would call an informed opinion,” Clapper admitted. “I don’t have the empirical evidence to go with it, but just thinking about it and seeing and understanding better since I left the government that the full magnitude of what they did, in my mind and in my opinion, they did affect the election.”
On Tuesday, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow shared the key passage from Clapper’s new book:
“As a private citizen, I had no doubt they influence at least some voters. Looking at the savvy ways Russians targeted specific user groups — for instance, buying advertisements on Facebook promoting Clinton’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement and ensuring those ads ran only on the pages of white conservative voters in swing states…
“Looking at how they created lies that helped Trump and hurt Clinton and promoted these falsehoods through social media and state-sponsored channels to the point that the traditional US media were unwittingly spreading Russian propaganda… and at how they ran a multifaceted campaign and sustained it at a high level from early 2015 until Election Day 2016…
“Of course, the Russian effort affected the outcome. Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense, and credulity to the breaking point,” Maddow read from Clapper’s book.
“Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election,” the excerpt continues. “I have no doubt that more votes than that were influenced by this massive effort by the Russians.”
Clapper never argued, at least not on CNN or in the passage Maddow read, that Russia intended to get Trump elected. However, he did insist that Trump owed his victory to Russia.
Most of the Facebook ads in question ran after the 2016 election. It remains unclear just how many votes were swayed by Russian meddling efforts, and it seems Clapper’s argument will be impossible to prove one way or the other. While it is possible Russian efforts did sway the election to Trump, Americans — not Russians — cast the votes to elect him. Russian meddling is a serious matter, but the 2016 election is over.
Clapper’s remarks suggest a desire to delegitimize the sitting president.