White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday dismissed a recent CNN report claiming the FBI has information to suggest Trump associates may have worked with Russian operatives in an attempt to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Spicer argued that the report was flimsy and, by its own admission, offered no definitive proof of coordination. “Let’s actually look at what CNN reported: They reported that anonymous U.S. officials have told them that information indicates that [associates] of the campaign and suspected operatives coordinated, which they admit is not conclusive of anything bordering on collusion.” He added: “There is probably more evidence that CNN colluded with the Clinton campaign to give her debate questions than the Trump campaign gave any kind of collusion.”
There is no publicly available, conclusive evidence that people in Trump’s orbit colluded with Russian operatives in an attempt to damage Clinton’s bid. Spicer himself emphasized that on Monday, after FBI Director James Comey publicly revealed for the first time that the agency is investigating Russia’s involvement in the election and whether there was any coordination.
But two recent developments have raised the specter of collusion. CNN’s story, published on Wednesday, alleged that “the FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” And earlier on Wednesday, Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russia’s role in the election, stated that “there is more than circumstantial evidence now” of collusion, though he did not provide specifics of what that might be.
When asked by CNN’s Sara Murray Thursday afternoon if he could “say unequivocally that associates of President Trump did not collude with suspected Russian operatives,” Spicer took issue with the ambiguity of the term “associates.” “No, I can’t unequivocally say that nobody ever, in his past, who may or may not have come in contact with him, who sat next to him in a plane,” he said. “The point that I’m making is when you use a term like ‘associate’ ... there’s a reason why you’re doing it, because you don’t have anything concrete,” he added. “What I have a problem with is, specific with the reporting your network did yesterday, is it was one subjective term after another … with no concrete proof that anything happened.”
Spicer also defended the credibility of House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, who is leading his panel’s examination of the election, but whose public remarks about intelligence have recently caused controversy. On Wednesday, Nunes sent shockwaves through Washington when he claimed that “the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.” The news did not appear to vindicate Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him, and Nunes himself has repeatedly said that there’s no evidence of a physical wiretap. The FBI and the Justice Department have indicated that they have no information to support tweets Trump sent earlier this month detailing his Obama allegations.
Spicer waved off a question from a reporter about whether the White House or an administration official might have given Nunes the information he announced on Wednesday, and which the chairman shared with the president
“I don’t know what he actually briefed the president on, but I don’t know why he would come up to brief the president on something that we gave him,” Spicer said. “I don’t know that that makes sense. … I’m not aware of it, but it doesn’t really pass the smell test.” On Wednesday, Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, harshly criticized Nunes for the release of the information, which he said “committee members only learned about” when Nunes went public.
Schiff said that Nunes would have to decide if “he’s leading an investigation” or “going to act as a surrogate of the White House.” Spicer, for his part, said the president “absolutely” remains confident in Nunes’s ability to spearhead his committee’s inquiry.