Clapper: Intel assessment of Russian interference casts 'doubt on the legitimacy' of Trump victory

  • Former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said an assessment by the US intelligence community on Russia's US-election interference "cast doubt" on President Donald Trump's legitimacy.
  • Clapper's comments follow an avalanche of recent news about Russia's efforts to sway American voters in 2016.
  • The Russia investigation has gained significant momentum in recent weeks, with several current and former Trump insiders under scrutiny for their ties to, and contacts with Russian operatives.

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said the US intelligence community's assessment of Russia's interference in the 2016 election "cast doubt on the legitimacy" of President Donald Trump's victory.

"Our intelligence community assessment did serve to cast doubt on the legitimacy of his victory in the election," Clapper said of Trump in a CNN interview Friday evening.

"I think that, above all else, is what concerned him, and I think that transcends, unfortunately, the real concern here, which is Russian interference in our political process which, by the way, is going to continue," Clapper said.

It was the most direct assertion about the impact that Russian operatives had in the US election — the investigation of which has evolved exponentially in the last four months under special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the Russia probe on behalf of the US Justice Department.

RELATED: Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

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Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe
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Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe

Tom Barrack

The close friend to Donald Trump and CEO of private equity firm Colony Capital recommended that Trump bring in Paul Manafort for his presidential campaign.

R. James Woolsey

Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil. 

(Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The former senior Trump campaign official and White House adviser was present and crucial during the firings of Michael Flynn and James Comey.

The former head of the Trump transition team following the 2016 election has said previously that he believes he was fired due to his opposing the hiring of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Donald Trump

2016 election winner Donald Trump is at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's handlings.

Sam Clovis

Clovis, a former member of the Trump campaign, arrives on at the U.S. Capitol December 12, 2017 to appear before a closed meeting of the House Intelligence Committee. Clovis worked with George Papadopoulos, a former Donald Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who struck a plea deal on charges of lying to the FBI.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo (L)

Caputo waves goodbye to reporters after he testified before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed-door session at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Caputo resigned from being a Trump campaign communications advisor after appearing to celebrate the firing of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Denying any contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, Caputo did live in Moscow during the 1990s, served as an adviser to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and did pro-Putin public relations work for the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Stephen Miller, White House Senior Advisor for Policy

Jason Miller
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Eric Trump
Donald Trump Jr.
Ivanka Trump
White House Senior adviser Jared Kushner
Executive assistant to Donald Trump Rhona Graff
White House Communications Director Hope Hicks
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski
US Vice President Mike Pence
Katrina Pierson
K.T. McFarland
Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci
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Mueller and his investigators have focused on several people close to Trump who have ties to, or have made contact with the Kremlin — including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and others. Information gleaned from US government surveillance of Manafort prompted concerns that he had encouraged Russians to "help with the campaign," according to a CNN report on Monday.

Kremlin operatives reportedly bragged about trying to use people close to Trump — like Flynn, Manafort, and former foreign-policy adviser Carter Page — to make inroads with the campaign.

And Donald Trump, Jr. became the subject of heavy scrutiny in July when it was discovered that he, along with Manafort and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner attended a meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer who promised to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Russia's efforts to sway the US election were further revealed this month when Facebook announced that Russian-associated Facebook accounts had purchased $100,000 in ads during the election. The ads were used to target voters in some battleground states.

A sort spot for Trump

Clapper's assertion that Russia's activities cast doubt on Trump's legitimacy strikes a nerve with the president. Aides and allies have said previously that Trump's ire toward the Russia investigation stems from that exact notion; that Russia's meddling potentially diminishes his November 2016 victory.

Trump himself is a subject of Mueller's investigation for possible obstruction of justice, for his part in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Trump has said that he had the Russia probe in mind when he made his decision, and later said that firing Comey took "great pressure" off of him in the investigation.

To date, neither Trump nor anyone subject to Mueller's investigation has been accused of any wrongdoing, and Trump has denied the same.

For her part, Clinton has made crystal clear whom she blames for Russia's interference.

In an interview with USA Today published Monday, Clinton said she thought some Trump associates had an "understanding" that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted her to lose and Trump to win.

"There certainly was communication, and there certainly was an understanding of some sort," Clinton said.

"And there's no doubt in my mind that there are a tangle of financial relationships between Trump and his operation with Russian money," Clinton said, adding that she was confident the Trump campaign "worked really hard to hide their connections with Russians."

The federal government told election officials in 21 states on Friday that hackers had tried to break into their systems before the 2016 election, the Associated Press reported.

Key battleground states like Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were among those targeted, the report said. The AP said the government did not specify who the hackers were, but election officials in several affected states told the news wire service that the attempts were linked to Russia.

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