James Clapper: I don't know if there was evidence of collusion between Trump's associates and Russian intel

I’m … just not sure we can trust the one person from the Obama administration more famous for lying in public than Susan Rice.

Clapper on “Meet the Press,” March 5th:


Well, that’s an important revelation at this point. Let me ask you this. Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?


We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., 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.


I understand that. But does it exist?


Not to my knowledge.

Trump’s been citing that ever since, as recently as this morning, as proof that not only is he personally clean of any collusion with Russia but so was his campaign. One wrinkle, though. Right after the exchange excerpted above, Clapper stressed to Chuck Todd that evidence of collusion “could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.”

That’s part of his reasoning in the first clip below from today’s interview on MSNBC. He just doesn’t know what the FBI may have discovered in the four months since he stepped down as DNI. There was no evidence of collusion that he knew of as of January 20th, but today, with the FBI’s probe reportedly “accelerating”? He just can’t say. This is his way, I guess, of nudging Trump to stop using him as a witness. It goes beyond that, though: He also stresses that while his job as DNI dealt purely with intelligence, Comey wore two hats as an intelligence official and a law-enforcement official. If evidence of criminal collusion was developing within the FBI, Clapper wouldn’t necessarily have been privy to that. The only person who can truly clear Trump, it seems, is Andrew McCabe, the acting director. And the FBI’s not supposed to comment publicly on open investigations.

The most succinct explanation I’ve seen of the White House’s political problem right now comes from Ramesh Ponnuru, who correctly identifies three competing explanations for why Trump fired Comey:

A The stated rationale was the real one. Trump thought, for example, that Comey’s July press conference about the Clinton-email investigation was improper.

B Trump was angry that Comey had not shut down the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the election because he regards the investigation as part of a Democratic plot to raise baseless questions about his legitimacy as president.

C Trump thought that the FBI’s investigation posed an unacceptably high risk of turning up evidence of serious misconduct on his part.

The correct explanation, says Ponnuru, is probably B. I agree, although I think the fact that the FBI hadn’t arrested any prominent leakers exacerbated Trump’s irritation at the comparative attention being paid to Russiagate. The problem is that there’s been enough evidence of Russian meddling during the campaign that it’s hard to justify shutting down the probe, even if there’s nothing damning pointing to Trump himself. And once you try to do so by firing Comey, it becomes very, very hard to prove that your motive was B instead of the much more illicit C.

The second clip, by the way, has Clapper confirming that Comey told him Trump had invited him to dinner at the White House in January and that he was uneasy about going. Trump’s story is that Comey requested the dinner because he was eager to schmooze the president and keep his job. Do you think Comey might have told Trump that he wasn’t under investigation, asks Andrea Mitchell? Highly unlikely based on what I know of him, Clapper replies. Hmmm.