Newly declassified documents have shown that several Obama administration officials now say they saw no empirical evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, contradicting earlier statements they made on television.
Chief among these Obama officials is former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He stated on CNN that President Donald Trump’s campaign was “aiding and abetting” the Russian attempt to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election. When the anchor pressed him on the issue he said he was using the term aiding and abetting “colloquially.”
Newly released sworn testimony, however, shows that Clapper told Congress he “never saw any direct empirical evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. (RELATED: Documents Shed Light On Media Leak Central To Michael Flynn Case)
“That’s not to say that there weren’t concerns about the evidence we were seeing, anecdotal evidence …[redacted],” Clapper continued in the transcript. “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.”
When a Republican congressman asked when whether it was reasonable to assume meetings implied collusion, Clapper deflected.
“I really can’t answer it other than the sort of visceral reaction to why all these meetings with the Russians,” he said. He acknowledged according to National Review that it was not abnormal for incoming administrations to meet with foreign representatives before assuming office, but said “I think there is a line … between that and violating the principle that in this country we traditionally have one president and one administration at a time.”
The lack of empirical evidence wasn’t enough to stop the Trump-Russia collusion from being far worse than Watergate in Clapper’s mind, however.
“I have to say though that I think, if you compare the two, Watergate pales really in my view compared to what we’re confronting now,” he said in 2017.
Clapper wasn’t alone in testifying to the lack of evidence of collusion. House members asked former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Powers whether she had seen any evidence herself.
“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,” she said according to Fox News.
Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice told the same story.
“To the best of my recollection, there wasn’t anything smoking, but there were some things that gave me pause,” she said, “I don’t recall intelligence that I would consider evidence to that effect that I saw … conspiracy prior to my departure.”
Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff also said in March 2019 that there was “direct evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. (RELATED: ‘Illegal’: Trump Goes After Tech Giants Google, Facebook For ‘Radical Left’ Bias)
“I think there is direct evidence in the emails from the Russians through their intermediary offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of what is described in writing as the Russian government effort to help elect Donald Trump,” Schiff said on CBS in March 2019.
Schiff at the time was relying on the very testimony from Clapper, Powers, Rice, and others which indicated direct empirical evidence of collusion had yet to be discovered.
Republicans have said they will bring Clapper and other Obama-era officials to testify before the Senate regarding the new revelations, but no official dates have been announced.