James Clapper: Let's face it, Russia was the difference in the election

The best part here is him saying to Tapper of his opinion, casually and almost absent-mindedly, “I don’t have the empirical evidence to go with it.” That’s a healthy habit for a former Director of National Intelligence, no? Just shootin’ the breeze, no data required, about an enemy power having possibly swung a presidential election.

If I recall correctly, no one else in government has made this claim. Not even Democratic partisans on the congressional intel committees have (although, Adam Schiff being Adam Schiff, he probably tossed it into a TV appearance at some point). Tapper asks him about that, in fact, and Clapper notes that it would have been inappropriate to speculate about it in the intel report issued early last year about Russian interference in the campaign. Intel chiefs aren’t elections analysts, after all. Absent any evidence of foreign vote-tampering, they simply have nothing to say about why one candidate won and another lost so their report didn’t mention it. Now freed from his professional ethical obligations and basic prudential concerns about speculating without evidence, though, Clapper wants the world to know that, given the extent of the Russian influence campaign and the extremely tight vote in key states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, it simply *must* be the case that they made the difference.

And very conveniently, he’s basing that opinion partly on non-public information that can’t be challenged or falsified by the skeptical citizens. He knows things that have convinced him that Facebook ads and email hackings were the likely difference, but you’re not allowed to know them. Although other people who also know them have been conspicuously more cautious about echoing this momentous conclusion, starting with other Trump-hating intel officers who have since left for the private sector like Comey and Andrew McCabe. (In fact, Democratic theories about nefarious actors who unfairly influenced the election normally point directly at Comey himself per his eleventh-hour letter about Emailgate.) Why hasn’t Comey been leading the “Russia decided the election” parade given his obvious personal incentives to do so?

Incidentally, the going theory for why Trump has stubbornly resisted acknowledging Russia’s campaign meddling two years ago is that he can’t bear the thought of losing credit for his glorious upset victory. Despite the fact that literally everyone of any consequence in U.S. intelligence believes that Russia interfered, Trump has hesitated because he suspects the real target of that claim is him, not Putin. People have tried to coax him off of that position by reassuring him that there’s no evidence Russia’s meddling was the difference and thus no reason to question his presidential legitimacy, believing that maybe those reassurances will lead him to come around and acknowledge Russia’s operations. But here’s Clapper blowing all of that up. He does question Trump’s victory. You would think he’d at least come to interviews armed with *some* sort of data to support it, even something as dubious as a correlation between Twitter bot activity and Trump’s overperformance in certain regions. He offers nothing.

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