Former Acting United States Attorney General Sally Yates made headlines with her testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee Monday, speaking in public for the first time about her role in the scandal surrounding possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump to interfere with the 2016 Presidential Election — meddling designed to tip the election to Trump.
But perhaps the day's most startling revelation came not from Yates, but from her co-witness during the Monday afternoon hearing, former U.S. Director of Intelligence James Clapper, in a moment late in the hearing that has largely escaped the media spotlight in the wake of Yates' dramatic testimony that she warned the Trump administration that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be blackmailed by Russia.
But Clapper under questioning from California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, became the first U.S. official to publicly confirm that the U.S. had specific intelligence linking Trump's campaign associates to "Russian intelligence operatives."
The revelation came when Feinstein questioned Clapper about a report that appeared in the British newspaper The Guardian on April 13, a report that claimed British intelligence agencies as far back as late 2015 "became aware of suspicious 'interactions' between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents... This intelligence was passed to the U.S. as part of a routine exchange of information."
The Guardian report went on to say that not only British intelligence but several other European intelligence agencies continued to collect information on the contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian agents, and conveyed that information to U.S. intelligence agencies until the summer of 2016.
Read the full Guardian report on the British intelligence Trump Russia information by visiting this link.
But no U.S. official had yet confirmed that the Guardian report was true — until Monday, when Feinstein posed the question to both Yates and Clapper.
"The Guardian has reported that Britain's intelligence service first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious interactions between Trump advisers and Russian intelligence agents. This information was passed on to U.S. intelligence agencies," Feinstein said at the hearing.
"Over the spring of 2016, multiple European allies passed on additional information to the United States about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. Is this accurate?"After Yates answered, "I can't answer that," Feinstein posed the question to Clapper.
"Yes," the former intelligence director said.
"It is — and it's also quite sensitive. The specifics are quite sensitive."Watch the complete Monday hearing on the Trump Russia scandal, with Sally Yates and James Clapper, in the video below.
Earlier, in media interviews, Clapper had stated that the U.S. intelligence investigation had turned up no evidence of collusion between the Trump team and Russia during the 2016 campaign.
But it now appears that Clapper was referring only to evidence discovered by United States intelligence agencies and included in their January report, which may be accessed at this link, detailing Russian hacking attacks and other interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.
In his testimony Monday, Clapper confirmed under oath that the United States was indeed, in possession of such evidence — albeit evidence obtained by British and other European intelligence operations.
"This may well have been the first public confirmation from an intelligence community leader that U.S. intelligence agencies have possessed secret information about ties between Trump's circle and Moscow," wrote David Corn, Washington correspondent for the political magazine Mother Jones on Monday.
Not only did Clapper confirm that the U.S. is in possession of evidence linking Trump's campaign to Russian intelligence — but the details of that evidence are "quite sensitive," according to the 76-year-old Clapper, who stepped down from the position he had held for more than six years as Director of National Intelligence on January 20, the day that Trump was inaugurated.
But why did the U.S. agencies seemingly put the British and European evidence on the back burner?
"It looks like the [U.S.] agencies were asleep," one source said, at the time of the Guardian report.
"[The European agencies] were saying 'There are contacts going on between people close to Trump and people we believe are Russian intelligence agents. You should be wary of this.'"
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