Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Friday denied clearing President Donald Trump of collusion with Russia, instead saying that he does not know "if there was collusion or not."
Further, Clapper said it's not "surprising or abnormal" that he would not have known about an investigation involving collusion with Trump's campaign.
"My practice for the six-and-one-half years as DNI was to defer to the director of the FBI, Bob Mueller or Jim Comey, on whether, when, and what to tell me about a counterintelligence investigation," Clapper told NBC's Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC "Andrea Mitchell Reports" program.
"When the possibility was there that it could devolve into a criminal investigation, it was the practice that I followed here and it was consistent with what I did for 6 1/2 years."
And as such, Clapper continued, "It is not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation, even more importantly the content of that investigation. So I don't know if there was collusion or not. I don't know if there was evidence of collusion or not, nor should I have in this particular context."
Trump has often cited Clapper's comments on Russian collusion to back up his insistence that nothing had happened, including with a tweet Friday:
But Clapper told Mitchell that while he was still in office, the focus was on the "intelligence community assessment (ICA) that we put together on Russian interference in our election, which by the way, is the issue that we ought to be focusing on, I think, as a nation."
The directors of the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency, he continued, were "very concerned" about the "lack of evidence that we want to sustain before we publish that ICA."
And while there was "no evidence [of collusion] that rose to that level at that time that found its way into the intelligence community assessment that we had pretty high confidence in, that's not to say there wasn't evidence," said Clapper, "but not that met that threshold. And if you're not attempting to clear or convict anyone of collusion, it is just out of your scope."
Clapper said he also does not believe the Russian investigation is either "fake news" or a "witch hunt," as Trump has said, but "that is kind of irrelevant."
"I think what needs to happen here is to clear this cloud," said Clapper. "It would be in everyone's best interest to get to the bottom of this and for the country. Otherwise, this is going to continue to linger as a dark cloud over, in my opinion, this administration."
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