Monday’s Russia hearing was a disaster for Trump

His key talking point, destroyed.

President Trump walks from Marine One across the South Lawn to the White House on May 7 as he returns from Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
President Trump walks from Marine One across the South Lawn to the White House on May 7 as he returns from Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

After acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before a Senate panel on Monday and provided troubling details about how slow the White House was to act on information its then-national security adviser may have been compromised by Russia, President Trump took to Twitter to try and tamp the whole thing down.

But the first of four tweets Trump published about the hearing made a claim that was undermined earlier in the day by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who testified alongside Yates.

“Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is ‘no evidence’ of collusion w/ Russia and Trump,” the president tweeted.

This, however, is not what Clapper said on Monday.

What Clapper actually said

On March 4, Clapper went on Meet the Press, and was asked by Chuck Todd if he’s aware of evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

“Not to my knowledge,” Clapper replied.

Just over two weeks later, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia. That same day, Trump seized upon Clapper’s Meet the Press remark to try and undercut the notion he’s involved in a scandal.

On March 20, Press Secretary Sean Spicer cited Clapper’s remark during his press briefing, telling reporters that while “Director Comey confirmed that the FBI in investigating Russia’s role in interfering in the election,” nothing had changed.

“Senior Obama intelligence officials have gone on record to confirm that there is no evidence of a Trump-Russia collusion,” Spicer said. “The Obama CIA director said so, Obama’s director of national intelligence said so, and we take them at their word.”

Indeed, days after Clapper’s interview, former acting CIA Director Michael Morell said he believes there’s “no fire” underpinning the smoke surrounding Trump’s relationship with Russia. But Morell indicated his position was based on Clapper’s remark, saying, “That’s a pretty strong statement by General Clapper.”

On Monday, however, Clapper clarified that his Meet the Press comment wasn’t meant to give people the idea he had direct knowledge of Comey’s investigation and had concluded it hadn’t uncovered evidence of collusion. Instead, he said he just wasn’t aware that Comey was investigating.

From Mother Jones:

At Monday’s hearing, Clapper pulled this rug out from under the White House and its comrades. He noted that it was standard policy for the FBI not to share with him details about ongoing counterintelligence investigations. And he said he had not been aware of the FBI’s investigation of contacts between Trump associates and Russia that FBI director James Comey revealed weeks ago at a House intelligence committee hearing. Consequently, when Clapper told Todd that he was not familiar with any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, he was speaking accurately. But he essentially told the Senate subcommittee that he was not in a position to know for certain. This piece of spin should now be buried. Trump can no longer hide behind this one Clapper statement.

Instead of reassuring Trump, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said Clapper being kept in the dark about the FBI investigation should worry the president.

Yates, meanwhile, refused to answer questions about whether she’s aware of evidence of collusion, saying her answer would require her to disclose classified information.

The clarification about his Meet the Press comments wasn’t the only part of Clapper’s testimony that should be concerning for Trump. As NBC reports, at another point, the former director of national intelligence suggested there’s also an ongoing investigation into Trump’s business ties to Russia.

When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked Clapper yesterday if he ever found a situation where a Trump business interest in Russia gave him concern, Clapper replied, “Not in the course of the preparation of [last winter’s] intelligence community assessment.” When Graham pressed if he later found a concern, Clapper said, “Sen. Graham, I can’t comment on that because that impacts the investigation.”

Just because you tweet it doesn’t make it true

Despite Clapper’s clarification, Trump once again used his Meet the Press remark to try and undercut the story following Monday’s hearing, even going so far as to it for his Twitter header image.

Trump deleted the suspicious and problematic header image before daybreak on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Republican senators such as Ted Cruz and John Cornyn were much more interested in asking Clapper about Hillary Clinton’s emails and Yates about her refusal to implement Trump’s Muslim ban than they were in getting to the bottom of the Trump-Russia scandal.