FACT CHECK: Did Matthew Whitaker Once Say There Is No Evidence That Russia Interfered In The 2016 Election?
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff claimed Sunday that Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker once said that there is no proof that Russia interfered or had an impact on the 2016 presidential election.
Whitaker did at one point say that Russia had no impact on the 2016 election. He also said in several interviews from 2017 that there is no evidence that Russia interfered in the election, but it is possible that Whitaker was conflating interference with collusion. In later interviews, he acknowledged Russian interference.
President Donald Trump appointed Whitaker as acting attorney general after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned from the post Nov. 7 at the president’s request. Sessions had recused himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference and collusion in the 2016 election.
“This is someone who’s made repeated and prejudicial comments against the investigation. Someone who has made false statements about it, claiming that the Russians really had no impact on our election,” Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“This fellow Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, said that there – at one point that there was no proof that Russia interfered in our elections when 17 intelligence agencies said we did,” Schumer said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Whitaker gave many interviews in 2017 when he was the executive director of the conservative Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust in which he questioned whether it was within the special council’s scope to probe Trump’s finances and investigate political consultant Paul Manafort, who was found guilty of tax and bank fraud in August and pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in September.
On several occasions, Whitaker’s statements suggested that not only was there no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.
“We see folks on the left primarily using a tactic of trying to shame, shout down and otherwise indict individuals in politics with, you know, very little evidence. And – and quite frankly, in this Russia alleged interference in elections, without any facts,” Whitaker said on the “Chosen Generation Radio Show” in April 2017.
In a May 2017 interview on Iowa radio show “Need To Know With Jeff Angelo,” Whitaker said that he had not seen a “single fact” that suggests that the Russians interfered or colluded in the 2016 election.
“A foreign power trying to, you know, attempting to interfere in an election is obviously a very salacious claim. But you know, again, I have not seen a single fact that would suggest that anything like that has happened,” Whitaker said. “I think all I’ve heard so far that is probably generally accepted as the truth is that the Russians, including their President, Putin, wanted – had a preferred candidate to win the American presidential election. That is the most I have heard that is kind of the truth. And then after that it gets through wild speculation.”
The U.S. intelligence community released a report in January 2017, months before Whitaker’s interviews, that found evidence of a Russian influence campaign in the 2016 presidential election. “Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyber activity — with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls,'” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in the report.
Whitaker may have been conflating interference with collusion, but his comments were not clear. In multiple interviews where he said that there is no evidence of Russian interference, he mentioned the Trump campaign and collusion.
“The left is trying to sow this theory that essentially Russians interfered with the U.S. election, which has been proven false,” Whitaker said on the “Chosen Generation Radio Show” in March 2017. “They did not have any impact in the election, and that has been very clear from the Obama administration. They’re trying to suggest that essentially the Trump campaign had these deep ties into Russia, which is not true … I guess, what they, you know, are kind of trying to conflate is that somehow Russia and – and the Trump campaign, you know, sort of conspired to influence the election.”
Whitaker again referenced Russian interference in the context of collusion with the Trump campaign on Sean Hannity’s radio show in May 2017. “The alleged Russian interference in the election and whatever that’s been characterized as now, I haven’t seen any reports of actual evidence that anything happened,” Whitaker said.
“This idea that there was some collusion with Russian nationals and even Putin to interfere and did interfere with the election, I think, is just ludicrous based on what we know at this point,” he argued later in the interview.
Whitaker later acknowledged that Russians interfered in the election in several June 2017 interviews and specifically separated the issue of Russian interference in the election from Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.
“I mean I don’t think there’s any doubt right now that the Russians tried to interfere in our election,” he said in one interview with an Iowa radio station. “But no votes were changed. So that’s fact number A. But then they try to, like, make the pivot that somehow the Trump campaign was in direct contact with Russians, who – to, you know, get their aid and – and assistance in the election. And there is not a single piece of evidence of that.”
“The truth is, there was no collusion with the Russians in the Trump campaign. There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that is not the collusion with the campaign, and that’s where the left seems to be just combining these two issues,” he said in another interview on “The Wilkow Majority” radio show.
Some lawyers argue that Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general is unconstitutional. The Department of Justice (DOJ) released an opinion Wednesday that said his appointment is legal. (RELATED: Is The Appointment Of Acting Attorney General Mattew Whitaker Unconstitutional?)
The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.
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