This is the same Mike Morell who helped prepare the infamous administration talking points on Benghazi used by Susan Rice, and who published an op-ed last August titled, “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.” Citing Trump’s endless apologetics for Putin in that piece, he wrote, “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” Not a guy, in other words, who would naturally be eager to dismiss suspicions about Trump staffers conspiring with Russia to meddle in the campaign against Hillary. Yet here he is, warning Trump’s critics that … there’s simply no there there.
An important unanswered question: Does Morell know this based on his contacts in the intelligence community (he left the CIA in 2013) or is he just summarizing the public statements made by people like James Clapper thus far? My guess is that he wouldn’t go on record like this against what his own party desperately wants to believe unless he had good reason to think he’s right.
“On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all,” Morell said at an event sponsored by the Cipher Brief, an intelligence web site.
“There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”
Morell pointed out that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Meet the Press on March 5 that he had seen no evidence of a conspiracy when he left office January 20.
That’s two Obama natsec pros at the highest levels trying to warn Democrats away from investing any further in the Great Trump/Russia Conspiracy. Morell also pointed out that the infamous Trump dossier involved paid sources and information collected through intermediaries, two red flags that made him suspicious of its accuracy. “If you’re paying somebody, particularly former FSB officers,” said Morell, “they are going to tell you truth and innuendo and rumor, and they’re going to call you up and say, ‘hey, let’s have another meeting, I have more information for you,’ because they want to get paid some more.” The CIA pays sources too, he acknowledged, but they deal with those sources directly and have some sense of how they might have obtained their information. When you’re dealing with paid intermediaries, you’re dealing with not one but two levels of sources who have a financial incentive to lie or exaggerate.
Put this together with Clapper’s statement, Chris Coons backing off his claim on March 6th that transcripts showed “collusion” between Trump staffers and Russia, and BuzzFeed’s report on March 9th that Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are trying to lower expectations for what the Russia probe might reveal and it sure feels like the word has gone out among well-connected liberals that the months-long probe into a Trump/Russia relationship is a bust. That’ll be sweet vindication for Trump if/when the DOJ or Comey formally clears him. Too bad in hindsight, though, that he lobbed that wiretapping charge at Obama, which, if it’s also a bust — and that’s how it looks — the left will seize as a consolation prize for the Russia well coming up empty. Nothing eases the pain of a “Trump and Russia weren’t colluding?” blow like a “Trump falsely and irresponsibly accused our hero of wrongdoing!” narrative.
Actually, there may be a new headache for the White House related to intelligence matters. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intel Committee, claimed this morning that Trump may have revealed classified information in his interview with Tucker Carlson by saying that “the CIA was hacked.” There’s no legal problem in doing that, as the president can declassify whatever he likes, but declassification shouldn’t be done haphazardly. I think he was probably just referring to the Wikileaks revelations, not some as-yet-publicly-unknown hacking, but we’ll see.