Newly released House Intelligence Committee transcripts show just how different a picture some top Obama-era officials painted of the Trump-Russia investigation under oath versus the loaded allegations they made over years in public statements.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has emerged as a staunch Trump critic and paid-CNN contributor since leaving his government role, told the committee during a July 2017 interview that he “never saw any direct empirical evidence that the Trump campaign or someone in it was plotting [or] conspiring with the Russians to meddle with the election.”
“That’s not to say that there weren’t concerns about the evidence we were seeing, anecdotal evidence…[redacted],” Clapper continued, “But I do not recall any instance when I had direct evidence of the content of these meetings. It’s just the frequency and prevalence of them was of concern.”
Just two months prior to his sworn testimony, the former DNI said in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that his “dashboard warning light was clearly on,” regarding potential communications between Russians and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.
“I have to say that, without specifically affirming or confirming these conversations — since, even though they’re in the public realm, they’re still classified — just from a theoretical standpoint, I will tell you that my dashboard warning light was clearly on and I think that was the case with all of us in the intelligence community, very concerned about the nature of these approaches to the Russians,” Clapper told host Chuck Todd at the time.
One month later, Clapper stated that the Russia investigation had surpassed that of Watergate, referencing the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972 that led to the resignation of former President Richard Nixon.
“I think if you compare the two that Watergate pales, really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now,” Clapper told reporters during a trip to Australia.
In December of 2017, Clapper said on CNN that Vladimir Putin is a “great case officer,” continuing, “he knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president.”
As recently as 2019, the former intelligence community head alleged “it was a possibility” that the commander in chief was a “Russian asset,” “whether witting or unwitting” during a February CNN appearance.
Andrew McCabe, former deputy director of the FBI and current CNN contributor, became a very public foe of the president after he was fired in March 2018. In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” on February 17, 2019, McCabe recalled a meeting with President Trump in the early days of the administration, saying, “I was speaking to the man who had just run for the presidency, and won the election for the presidency, and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage and that was something that troubled me greatly.”
Prior to his days as a cable news pundit, however, the FBI official told the House Intelligence Committee that investigators had not been able to verify claims made in the Steele dossier, the unverified reporting that claimed the president was compromised by Russia, ultimately forming the basis for investigations of the matter.
“What is the most damning or important piece of evidence in the dossier that you now know is true?” McCabe was asked during his December 2017 interview.
“Well, as I tried to explain before, there is a lot of information in the Steele reporting. We have not been able to prove the accuracy of all the information,” he answered.
Pressed further to confirm that he did not know if Christopher Steele’s dossier was true, McCabe said, “That’s correct.”
Ben Rhodes, an Obama-era deputy national security adviser and fellow Trump critic, tweeted in July 2019 after Robert Mueller’s public testimony to Congress, “Russia attacked our democracy. Trump campaign sought its help, had many contacts with Russians, lied about it and obstructed the investigation into it. Several senior Trump associates were convicted of crimes. Trump would have been indicted if he wasn’t President. Not complicated.”
When asked under oath by House investigators if he had any evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, Rhodes said he did not.
“I wouldn’t have received any information on any criminal or counterintelligence investigations into what the Trump campaign was doing, so I would not have seen that information,” Rhodes told investigators.
Pressed again on the topic, he continued, “I saw indications of potential coordination, but I did not see, you know, the specific evidence of the actions of the Trump campaign.”
Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the United Nations, has publicly accused Trump of catering to Russian President Vladimir Putin to compensate him for interfering in the 2016 election.
“Every day @realDonaldTrump finds new ways to compensate Vladimir Putin for his election interference. And every day Putin gains additional incentive to interfere again on Trump’s behalf in 2020,” she wrote on Twitter in November of last year.
But when speaking under oath to House investigators, she sang a different tune.
Asked whether she had seen evidence of Russian interference, she said, “I am not in possession of anything—I am not in possession and didn’t read or absorb information that came from out of the intelligence community.”
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice told ABC’s “This Week” in July 2018 that questioning if President Trump was compromised by the Russians was “legitimate” because Putin was benefitting by the commander in chief’s policy decisions.
“What his motivations are I think is a legitimate question … the policies that this president has pursued globally have served Vladimir Putin’s interests,” she said at the time.
Less than a year earlier, however, Rice told House investigators that she hadn’t seen evidence proving then-candidate Trump coordinated or colluded with Russia to take the 2016 election.
“I don’t recall intelligence that I would consider evidence to that effect that I saw prior…to my departure,” she said when being questioned by former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC).
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, another former Obama-era official who was fired 10 days into the Trump administration after she obstructed the president’s travel ban, told the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath in May 2017 that she could not say if she had evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, saying doing so would require her to reveal classified information.
When pushed by now-Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about what intel she was aware of that wasn’t included in previous reports, Yates said, “You asked me whether I was aware of any evidence of collusion, and I declined to answer because answering would reveal classified information.”
“I believe that that’s the same answer that Director Comey gave to this committee when he was asked this question as well. And he made clear, and I’d like to make clear, that just because I say I can’t answer it, you should not draw from that an assumption that that means that the answer is yes,” she continued.
During that same hearing, Yates went on to say that she had warned the White House about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Flynn pleaded guilty in late 2017 to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with Kislyak. However, his lawyers now say they believe this document supports their case to reverse his plea, citing investigative misconduct.
In her testimony, Yates alleged that Flynn “essentially could be blackmailed” by Russia because the country knew that he had lied about the nature of his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
“To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security advisor compromised with the Russians,” she told the Senate panel.
Attorney General William Barr decided to drop the prosecution of Flynn after recently released FBI documents revealed that agents openly questioned if their “goal” was to “get him to lie.”
With Post wires
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