During a Morning Joe appearance on Wednesday, Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders grossly misrepresented the facts as part of the White House’s effort to downplay the multiple active investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russian intelligence.
Pushed about how Trump believes he can possibly get away with firing FBI Director James Comey amid an active FBI investigation, Huckabee Sanders said, “I hope that the Senate completes [their investigation] so that they can come to the same conclusion that everyone else has, and that every person has said, whether it’s been [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper or others, that there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
That’s not, however, what Clapper said.
Clapper’s comments — which have been a favorite talking point of Trump’s ever since James Comey first confirmed the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia on March 20 — dates back to a March 4 Meet the Press interview where Clapper indicated he wasn’t aware of evidence that team Trump and Russia had conspired together to bring down Hillary Clinton.
That talking point was destroyed once and for all on Monday. During a Senate hearing, Clapper said that he didn’t meant to suggest no evidence of collusion existed during that Meet the Press interview. Instead, he simply wasn’t aware that the FBI was conducting a counterintelligence probe at all.
“During my tenure as DNI, it was my practice to defer to the FBI director, both Director Mueller and then subsequently Director Comey, on whether, when and to what extent they would inform me about such investigations,” Clapper said. “This stems from the unique position of the FBI, which straddles both intelligence and law enforcement. And as a consequence, I was not aware of the counterintelligence investigation Director Comey first referred to during his testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence on the 20th of March, and that comports with my public statements.”
So Clapper’s Meet the Press remark isn’t actually exculpatory for Trump — instead, as Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) pointed out, his ignorance about the FBI investigation might’ve actually been a cause for concern.
James Clapper statement he wasn't told of FBI Counterintelligence investigation suggests some Trump folks should be very scared right now.
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) May 9, 2017
Nor does Huckabee Sanders’ comment about “every person” agreeing that there’s nothing to the Trump-Russia story reflect what Comey said during the March 20 Senate hearing when he confirmed the FBI investigation of Trump’s campaign. Comey confirmed the FBI is “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Nonetheless, hours after Clapper’s testimony, Trump again tried to use Clapper’s comment in his defense.
Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is "no evidence" of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
Huckabee Sanders’ appearance on Morning Joe came the morning after she publicly called for the country to “move on” from the Russia investigation immediately following Comey’s dismissal.
“When are they going to let that go?” Huckabee Sanders said about the Russia investigations during a Fox News interview Tuesday night. “There’s nothing there — we’ve heard that time and time again, we heard it in the testimonies earlier this week, we’ve heard it for the last 11 months, there is no there there. It’s time to move on, and frankly it’s time to focus on the things the American people care about.”
A short time after news of Comey’s dismissal broke, CNN broke news that federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas as part of their probe. Meanwhile, senior FBI officials told NBC News they believe Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who had ostensibly recused himself from all matters to do with Russia probes — want “to replace [Comey] with someone who will close” the investigation.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was even more brazen on Tuesday night, denying during a CNN appearance that an FBI investigation of Trump existed.
“Let me repeat that the president has been told by the FBI director that he is not under FBI investigation, that is right in the president’s letter,” Conway said.
Anderson Cooper, incredulous, replied with, “This White House is under investigation, the people around the president are around investigation — you would agree with that, yes?
“No I don’t, I know that some are obsessed with the word Russia — the president is not under investigation, I’m around the president, I’m not under investigation,” Conway said. “I can name many people in that same situation.”