Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director John Brennan told NBC News’ Chuck Todd on Sunday’s Meet the Press that he learned since retiring that Russians began hacking Hillary Clinton’s emails on the day Donald Trump joked about it in July 2016.
The problem: that widely-cited claim is untrue — a piece of “fake news” evidence, drawn from one of the indictments by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that has fueled unfounded theories that Trump colluded with the Russians during the presidential election.
Last week, Brennan wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which he confirmed Trump’s joke at a July 27, 2016 press conference about inviting the Russians to find the 33,000 emails missing from Clinton’s illicit private server had prompted him to start a large counter-intelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. In addition, Brennan suggested that he had learned from media reports, since leaving his post in 2017, that there was further evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian hackers.
Todd asked Brennan to respond to a statement by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) challenging him to produce whatever new evidence he had discovered. Brennan referred to “the fact that Donald Trump, when he was the presidential candidate of the Republican Party, when he called publicly on the Russians to find Hillary’s emails, I didn’t realize when I was CIA director it was that very night that Russian intelligence went after her emails.” That is based on the dates in Mueller’s indictment in July of 12 Russian nationals for hacking during the 2016 election, which indicated that “on or about July 27, 2016, the conspirators attempted after-hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.”
However, the first attempts to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails actually occurred in March 2016, not July 2016, according to the Associated Press — though those initial attempts may not yet have been directly linked to any criminal indictments.
The fact that Brennan continues to cite mainstream media mistakes — including the erroneous interpretation of Trump’s joke as some kind of signal to Russia — suggests that he has also swallowed the media’s pronounced anti-Trump bias. His reference to additional facts may simply refer to a narrative — or, less charitably, a conspiracy theory — that the media have recycled in an effort to keep suspicions of Russian collusion alive despite the failure of law enforcement or intelligence services to substantiate them.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.