Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted to the House Intelligence Committee in July 2017 that he was not aware of any direct evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
In a closed-door session on July 17, 2017, Clapper told the committee: “I never saw any direct empirical evidence that the Trump campaign or someone in it was plotting/conspiring with the Russians to meddle with the election.”
Those comments reflect what Clapper told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet the Press on March 5, 2017, when he said that the Intelligence Community assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election did not include evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign.
But Clapper added that it “could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.”
Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee that “anecdotal” evidence had emerged, such as people linked to the campaign talking to “the Russian ambassador on somebody that’s of Russian origin.”
Yet later in his testimony, he added that “we didn’t have any evidence of collusion certainly that met the evidentiary threshold that would make its way into the Intelligence Community assessment.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) — then the Ranking Member of the committee — attempted to soften the admission, asking Clapper: “So if there was evidence of collusion, it would not necessarily have been brought to your attention?” He also cited the (now-discredited) Steele dossier, asking whether it had been “corroborated at least in part” — to which Clapper replied, “It would appear so.”
Clapper also said that he believed evidence of collusion would eventually emerge.
On July 11 — six days before his testimony — Clapper had reacted to news of a Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a team led by a Russian attorney promising information on Hillary Clinton by telling the Cipher Brief: “I’ll leave it to the special counsel to determine whether the legal threshold of collusion was breached, but from this layman’s point of view, it certainly appears that way to me.”
He was asked about that remark at the House Intelligence Committee, and explained:
I can’t make a judgment about what the legal threshold, legal definition of — or if there is one, collusion here. I can’t judge that. It just looks kind of funny to me, you know, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s probably collusion. But I’m just a layman. And I’m out of the govennment, I’m a private citizen. I don’t have access to, thank God, the classified infonmation anymore.
Despite not having any direct evidence of collusion, Clapper was a major figure in helping the media and the opposition push the “Russia collusion” hypothesis.
In December 2017, he told CNN that Trump was a Russian “asset” that Vladimir Putin knew how to handle.
In February 2018, after the Department of Justice indicted 13 Russians for election interference, Clapper told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that there were “other shoes to drop,” and added specifically he expected to see financial links between Trump and Russia.
He said the same thing to Dana Bash on CNN’s State of the Union (via CNN):
Clapper: I do think there are other shoes to drop here besides this indictment, which, by the way, I think, does — did serve to validate with a higher evidentiary bar the intelligence community assessment that was rendered in January of 2017.
Bash: Other shoes to drop on what, for example?
Clapper: Well, for example, not addressed here is potential involvement of the Russian government, which we certainly saw through intelligence channels that the Russians were — government was — was masterminding this. I think another thing that we haven’t seen much of is financial entanglements between the Trump Organization before the election and then during it.
Bash: Are you confident there are financial entanglements that are problematic?
Clapper: Well, I don’t know. I’m just saying that we haven’t seen much on that. And I have to think that the special counsel and his team are looking at that, simply by looking at the composition of who’s on that team.
In his 2018 book that summer, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence, Clapper did not accuse Trump directly of collusion, but said that Trump made himself look guilty because of his objections to FBI investigations of his campaign aides.
“[I]f Trump was not involved with their Russian collusion, he should have welcomed the FBI’s work to protect him and his campaign from Russian influence. But once again, Donald Trump did not act like an innocent man,” Clapper wrote (original emphasis).
In May 2018, Clapper told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that he believed Russia had swung the election for Trump: “It just stretched logic to me that [Russia] didn’t have a huge impact on the election,” he said.
In March 2019, after Attorney General William Barr released his summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which showed no evidence of any Russian collusion, Clapper told CNN he had “no regrets.”
He also told Anderson Cooper in April 2019, after the release of the Muller report: “I think, if there wasn’t active collusion proven, then I think what we have here is a case of passive collusion.” And he told Chris Cuomo of CNN that the Mueller report provided a “road map” for impeaching the president.
The transcript of Clapper’s 2017 interview at the House Intelligence Committee — along with more than 50 other transcripts — was only released by Schiff on Thursday.
43 of the 57 transcripts had been cleared for release since June 2019, but Schiff had kept them under wraps — though there had been a bipartisan vote in the committee in September 2018 approving their release.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell informed Schiff earlier this week that all of the transcripts had been reviewed and could be released.
Schiff released the transcripts, with a note blaming the White House for the delay.
Republicans say the transcripts suggest that Schiff and the House Intelligence Committee knew that there was no real evidence of Russia collusion — yet Schiff pretended otherwise in public.
In March 2017, Schiff said there was “more than circumstantial” evidence of Russia collusion. He stuck by that claim in the months and years that followed, repeatedly claiming that there was evidence of collusion.
In March 2019, he even said that there was “direct evidence” of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.