Former President Obama’s spy chief and other top national security and law enforcement officials testified that they didn’t see direct evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, according to newly released House Intelligence Committee transcripts.
Here is what The Washington Examiner reported: James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence for most of Obama’s presidency, told the committee in July 2017 that he “never saw any direct empirical evidence” of any member of then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign “plotting/conspiring” with the Russian government.
“That’s not to say that there weren’t concerns about the evidence we were seeing, anecdotal evidence, [REDACTED]. But I do not recall any instance where I had direct evidence of the content of these meetings. It’s just the frequency and prevalence of them was of concern,” he said, according to one of the 57 transcripts released on Thursday.
But Clapper painted a much more dramatic picture as a CNN contributor. In May 2019, he appeared to contradict his sworn testimony.
“What was the Trump campaign doing at the same time?” Clapper said. “Essentially aiding and abetting the Russians and having contacts — dozens of contacts — with Russians, some of whom were connected officially to Russian intelligence, and not reporting it.”
These terms, to “aid” or “abet” a foreign power such as Russia, fall under the U.S. criminal code and potentially serious criminal penalties.
CNN host Brooke Baldwin interrupted Clapper to make that point. “Not legally aiding and abetting. To be clear, though, not meeting the legal definition of aiding and abetting,” she said.
Clapper backed off, saying, “Well, I’m using that in a parochial — or a colloquial sense, I guess.”
Robert Mueller’s special counsel report, released in April 2019, shows his investigation found the Russians interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” but his team “did not establish” any criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia. No one was ever charged with Russia collusion.
With the release of dozens of years-old witness transcripts from the House Intelligence Committee’s own investigation, Chairman Adam Schiff claimed they “richly detail evidence of the Trump campaign’s efforts to invite, make use of, and cover up Russia’s help in the 2016 presidential election.” This is consistent with statements the California Democrat has made over the years, taking about there being “direct evidence” of collusion.
But the transcripts of interviews with top Obama administration officials tell a different story.
Susan Rice, who served as Obama’s national security adviser, testified in September 2017 that she hadn’t seen evidence of Trump-Russia collusion during questioning by former Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina.
“So, to repeat the question, do I recall seeing any intelligence prior to my separation from government that indicated or suggested that Donald Trump per se conspired with Russia?” Rice asked.
Gowdy added: “To interfere with or influence the 2016 election.”
“I don’t recall intelligence that I would consider evidence to that effect that I saw prior — of conspiracy prior to my departure,” Rice said.
Gowdy followed up: “Was there something that you don’t consider intelligence — other forms of evidence?”
“Not that I specifically recall,” Rice said.
Rice gave the same denial as Gowdy used the words “collude,” “conspire,” and “coordinate.”
When asked by if there was evidence of any of this for Trump’s campaign, Rice answered, “Potentially.” The following back-and-forth between Gowdy and Rice remains mostly redacted.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s longtime deputy national security advisory, testified in October 2017 and similarly told Gowdy that he did not see evidence of “collusion,” “coordination,” or “conspiracy” between Trump and the Russian government.
“No,” Rhodes admitted when asked. “l think — again, I think, I mean, basically, as I answered it, I saw indications of potential coordination, but I did not see, you know, the specific evidence of the actions of the Trump campaign.”
Gowdy asked whether “evidence of potential coordination” was “synonymous with coincidence, or is it something more intentional than that?”
Rhodes said: “I mean, I don’t know the answer to that. I mean, you know, I think that’s why these investigations have to get to the bottom of it.”
Gowdy asked whether the answer by Rhodes would be different for Trump’s campaign, and he said, “No.”
Loretta Lynch, Obama’s former attorney general, also testified in October 2017, repeatedly telling a congressional questioner, whose identity is masked, that she not been “briefed up” on evidence of collusion. She did appear to speak to some evidence of coordination she may have seen, but much of it is redacted, and she seemed to back down under questioning.
“Was there any information, albeit from [CIA] Director [John] Brennan, [FBI] Director [James] Comey — then-Director Comey, [FBI] Deputy Director [Andrew] McCabe, or any other individuals in the lC [intelligence community] that you spoke with that had or showed specific information that Putin and Russia had a connection or relationship with anyone in the Trump campaign or Trump affiliates?” the congressional questioner asked.
“Well, other than the information I provided? You know, I don’t have a recollection of that being briefed up to me, but — so I would say I don’t have that recollection,” Lynch said.
The questioner pushed Lynch on whether she ever came across “any information that would show an actual coordinated effort” between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign. Lynch said, “I don’t recall anything being briefed up to me.”
The questioner then asked about any “conspiracy” or “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
“Well, you know, l wouldn’t have been drawing those legal conclusions at that time, in any event, so regardless of what information that I gave, because you would have to wait, and sort of look at a whole host of things,” Lynch testified. “And again, I don’t recall that being briefed up to me, which isn’t to say — so I can’t say that it existed or not.”
Sally Yates, Obama’s deputy attorney general, testified before the committee in November 2017, telling Gowdy that the Justice Department had not reached a conclusion on Trump-Russia collusion.
“It was in the early stages of what I would call determining — trying to determine relevant facts, rather than being able to reach a conclusion about whether there was any of the three Cs that you’ve got there: coordination, collusion, or conspiracy,” Yates said, adding, “I don’t believe anybody had reached a conclusion yet as to whether there was a nefarious alliance, for lack of not using your three Cs here, whether there was a nefarious alliance with the Russians.”
Samantha Power, Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, repeatedly attempted to dodge Gowdy’s efforts to get an answer out of her about her assessment of Trump-Russia collusion when she testified in October 2017. “I don’t feel as if I can accurately or fairly answer the question ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” she said.
Power said she did not have any knowledge that others would not possess.
“I mean, because the intelligence that I received came from the intelligence community, I had no — anything that would have come to me would have been in their possession first. They would have provided that … So, I am not in possession of anything else that — any other information that came from, for instance, my diplomatic colleagues or from other sources,” Power said, adding, “I am not in possession and didn’t read or absorb information that came from outside the intelligence community.”