President Donald Trump and right-wing media obfuscated comments that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made during his May 8 congressional testimony about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Clapper said he was not aware of evidence of such collusion, and Trump and commentators cast that comment as indication that there was no collusion. However, as others noted, just because Clapper wasn’t privy to any such evidence does not mean it doesn’t exist.
Clapper Said He Is “Not Aware” Of Evidence Of Trump Campaign Team’s Collusion With Russia. In his testimony during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence (DNI), told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that it is still accurate that, to his knowledge, there is no evidence of collusion between members of President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. Clapper also explained that, during his tenure as DNI, he “was not aware of the counterintelligence investigation.” From the May 8 hearing:
JAMES CLAPPER: During my tenure as DNI, it was my practice to defer to the FBI director, both Director Mueller and then subsequently Director Comey, on whether, when and to what extent they would inform me about such investigations. This stems from the unique position of the FBI, which straddles both intelligence and law enforcement. And as a consequence, I was not aware of the counterintelligence investigation Director Comey first referred to during his testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence on the 20th of March, and that comports with my public statements.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Without objection. General Clapper, on March 5, 2017, you said the following to a question. Here's the question.
Does intelligence exist that can definitely answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials? You said we did not include any evidence in our report.
And I say our, that's the NSA, the FBI, the 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.
Chuck Todd (ph) then asked, I understand that, but does it exist? You say no, not to my knowledge. Is that still accurate?
CLAPPER: It is. [The Washington Post, 5/8/17]
Trump Tweeted That Clapper Admitted There Was No Evidence Of Collusion
Trump: “Director Clapper Reiterated What Everybody, Including The Fake Media Already Knows - There Is ‘No Evidence’ Of Collusion With Russia And Trump.”
Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is “no evidence” of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
Right-Wing Media Figures Misrepresented Clapper’s Testimony As Evidence That There Was No Collusion Between Trump And Russia
Fox’s Brian Kilmeade: “There Is No Collusion. ... It’s Not Happening.” Kilmeade dismissed the possible collusion, asserting, “There is no collusion. If there was, Democrats would have come running with it. … It’s not happening.” Kilmeade added that there’s “no there, there.” From the May 9 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): As far as the president goes, this is going to drive him crazy. So, forget about it. Don't even watch this. There is no collusion. If there was, Democrats would have come running with it. [Sen.] Al Franken [D-MN] would be having 24-hour press conferences. So, it's not happening. So, move on, and don’t worry about it.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Different media outlets are choosing to report it in different ways. The headline really is there’s still no evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump.
KILMEADE: No there, there.
EARHARDT: Right. That's fact. Listen, we are a news organization. We're going to report it. If that ever comes to be, if we ever find evidence of that we are going to tell you about it. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/9/17]
Frequent CNN Guest Anthony Scaramucci: “Didn’t Clapper Say Yesterday There Was No Involvement Between The Trump Campaign And Russia?” On CNN’s New Day, Anthony Scaramucci, a member of Trump’s transition team and frequent cable news guest, misinterpreted Clapper’s statement, asking, “Didn’t Clapper say yesterday there was no involvement between the Trump campaign and Russia?” From the May 9 edition of CNN’s New Day:
CHRIS CUOMO (HOST): What Russia did here by consensus -- with everyone except the president of the United States because he still doesn't seem to accept that it was Russia -- that matters.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: Didn't Clapper say yesterday that there was no involvement between the Trump campaign and the Russians? [CNN, New Day, 5/9/17]
Fox’s Kimberly Guilfoyle: Clapper Is “Saying There Is No Evidence Of Collusion.” Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle misquoted Clapper, claiming, “You have Clapper saying there is no evidence of collusion.” Co-host Jesse Watters also asserted that the hearings showed that “there’s no evidence of any Trump collusion with Russia.” From the May 8 edition of Fox News’ The Five:
JESSE WATTERS (CO-HOST): What I took from the hearings today, which were a little boring, two things, mostly. There's no evidence of any Trump collusion with Russia. Number two, there is no impact that the Russians had on the election.
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (CO-HOST): She's actually kind of going out to her way to make an affirmative response, to say that she made a conclusion, a determination, you would assume based on evidence or facts that she had. So, that was her assessment. But on the flip side you have Clapper saying there is no evidence of collusion. [Fox News, The Five, 5/8/17]
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough: “If There Were Direct Evidence Of Collusion, It Would Have Already Been Leaked Out By Now.” After MSNBC anchor Willie Geist paraphrased Clapper’s testimony that he had “not seen evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia,” Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough concluded, “Trust me, if there were direct evidence of collusion, … it would have already been leaked out by now.” From the May 9 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
WILLIE GEIST: [Clapper] said pretty clearly I have not seen evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
JOE SCARBOROUGH (CO-HOST): Trust me, if there were direct evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, it would have already been leaked out by now. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 5/9/17]
Fox’s Eric Bolling: Clapper “Said There Was No Evidence Of Collusion.” Fox host Eric Bolling claimed that Clapper “said there was no evidence of collusion” between Trump associates and the Russians. From the May 8 edition of Fox News’ The Fox News Specialists:
BILL RICHARDSON: You have two career officials that have served in Republican and Democratic administrations, basically one, enormous collusion by Russia, one.
ERIC BOLLING (CO-HOST): Well, hold on. Are you talking about Flynn?
RICHARDSON: Two -- no, no, no, I am talking about in general. Clapper talking about the influence --
BOLLING: He said there was no collusion, no evidence of collusion. [Fox News, Fox News Specialists, 5/8/17]
Fox’s Bill Hemmer: “Clapper Stands By His Assertion There Is No Evidence Of Collusion Between Moscow And The Trump Team.” Introducing an interview with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), co-host Bill Hemmer contended, “Clapper stands by his assertion there was no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump team.” From the May 9 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:
BILL HEMMER (CO-HOST): So, that came right near the end of this hearing. Former acting [Attorney General] Sally Yates and former DNI head James Clapper said they had no part in revealing the names and don't know who did. This as Clapper stands by his assertion that there was no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump team. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/9/17]
Breitbart: “There Still Remains No Evidence Of Collusion Between” The Trump Administration “And Russian Agents.” In a report on Clapper’s May 8 testimony titled “Still No Evidence of Collusion Between Russia and Trump Administration,” Breitbart’s Ben Kew claimed, “Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that he still had no evidence to support the claims.” From the May 8 article:
Over 100 days into Donald Trump’s presidency, there still remains no evidence of collusion between his administration and Russian agents, despite mainstream media reports to the contrary.
During a congressional hearing into alleged collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that he still had no evidence to support the claims.
Last month, Clapper told NBC that the agency’s investigations had yielded no such evidence. When asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) whether this is still the case, Clapper said, “It is.” [Breitbart, 5/8/17]
Fake News Purveyor TruthFeed: “If There Were Evidence, Trust Me It Would Have Come Out By Now.” In a May 8 article posted on fake news purveyor TruthFeed, Amy Moreno wrote, “I don’t know how many times former Intel Chief James Clapper has to say there is no evidence of Trump/Russia collision before it sinks into liberal fatheads.” She claimed that “he reiterated it yet again” while testifying before Congress and concluded, “If there were evidence, trust me, it would have come out BY NOW.” [TruthFeed, 5/8/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]
Just Because Clapper Is Unaware Of Evidence Of Collusion Doesn’t Mean That Evidence Doesn’t Exist
Mother Jones’ David Corn: What Clapper Said Was That He “Was Not In A Position To Know For Certain” Whether There Was Evidence Of Collusion. Mother Jones’ David Corn wrote that when Clapper told NBC anchor Chuck Todd in March that “he was not familiar with any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, he was speaking accurately,” but that he explained further in his May 8 testimony that “he was not in a position to know for certain.” From the May 8 article:
At Monday's hearing, Clapper pulled this rug out from under the White House and its comrades. He noted that it was standard policy for the FBI not to share with him details about ongoing counterintelligence investigations. And he said he had not been aware of the FBI's investigation of contacts between Trump associates and Russia that FBI director James Comey revealed weeks ago at a House intelligence committee hearing. Consequently, when Clapper told Todd that he was not familiar with any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, he was speaking accurately. But he essentially told the Senate subcommittee that he was not in a position to know for certain. This piece of spin should now be buried. Trump can no longer hide behind this one Clapper statement. [Mother Jones, 5/8/17]
CNN’s Chris Cuomo: Clapper’s Saying “I Don’t Know What They Have” Is “Very Different Than Saying, 'I Know Everything They Have And They Have Nothing.'” New Day co-host Chris Cuomo pointed out that Clapper’s statement is “very different than saying, ‘I know everything they have and they have nothing.’” From the May 9 edition of CNN’s New Day:
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: Didn't Clapper say yesterday there was no involvement between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
CHRIS CUOMO (CO-HOST): Anthony, it’s interesting that you go to that, and I’ll tell you why. This is about what Russia did during this election with great effectiveness, how they did it, how they were able to be so effective, and why to stop it. It seems that you Trump guys can't get away from that issue without connecting it to the collusion argument. That is a separate issue, it’s a separate aspect of the investigation. Because you two conflate them all the time, maybe that's why we saw the White House deaf to what they were told about Flynn. And just to be clear about Clapper, what Clapper said yesterday was, “Did I know anything about collaboration? No. Collusion? No.” The president loves it. He tweets, “See.” He also said, “I didn't know anything about the investigation. I don't know the facts. The FBI didn't tell me. I don't know what they have.” That’s very different than saying, “I know everything they have and they have nothing.” [CNN, New Day, 5/9/17]