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In his interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt, President Donald Trump dismissed the very idea that there was any tie between his presidential bid and the Russians.
"This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story," Trump said May 11. "It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won."
Made-up? By Democrats?
With multiple investigations under way, we don’t know whether there was collusion between members of the Trump team and Russian interference in the election.
But that isn’t the question. The question is whether Democrats plucked the idea out of thin air.
A few highlights from the past year say otherwise.
First, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report expressing with "high confidence" that the Russian government put its thumb on the scale in favor of Trump.
"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election," the Jan. 7, 2017 report said. "Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary (Hillary) Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."
In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, then-FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his agency was investigating Russian efforts to interfere with the election.
"That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts," Comey said March 20, 2017.
Comey added that the investigation began in late July 2016.
Asked what evidence it took to launch this sort of investigation, Comey answered, "A credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power."
Let us pause here to note that these points alone rebut Trump’s description of this story.
The investigation began with the FBI, not the Democrats. It started in July 2016, a full three months before the election. It was not invented, but was based on evidence serious and credible enough to launch an investigation.
We can go further.
Both the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating, and Republicans control both chambers. Democrats don’t set the agenda.
Steven Aftergood with the Federation of American Scientists, a group that advocates for more transparency in government, said the fact of a Trump campaign-Russia connection is well established.
"It is supported by statements from Trump family members and associates, who have described financial relationships with Russian sources," Aftergood said. "The only question is whether the various Trump-Russia connections violated any laws. That is what the FBI and Congress are trying to determine."
Lastly, former director of national intelligence James Clapper was asked in a May 12 MSNBC interview if he thought that the investigation was a witch hunt.
"I don’t believe it is," Clapper answered.
Trump said, "This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won."
The record shows that credible evidence led the FBI to begin investigating possible ties between the Trump team and Russia in July 2016. That is the start of the story, more than three months before the election.
The American intelligence community expressed with confidence that Russia aimed to interfere in the election to harm Clinton and help Trump.
Democrats did not create the story, nor do they control the agenda of the House and Senate committees which are conducting their own investigations.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire.
NBC News, Interview with Donald Trump, May 11, 2017
Washington Post, Full transcript: FBI Director James Comey testifies on Russian interference in 2016 election, March 20, 2017
Office of Director of National Intelligence, Background to "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections": The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution, Jan. 6, 2017
Lawfare, Do We Really Need Another Trump-Russia Timeline?, May 1, 2017
Bill Moyers and Company, A Timeline: Russia and President Trump, May 8, 2017
Email interview, Steven Aftergood, senior research analyst, Federation of American Scientists, May 12, 2017
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