- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sen. Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat, on Sunday walked back his bombshell declaration about transcripts showing Russia-Trump collusion, saying he had no proof such documents exist and apologizing for any “hyperventilating.”

“I have no hard evidence of collusion,” Mr. Coons told “Fox News Sunday.”

He said he was sorry for any misinterpretation of his comments, which blew up on social media after a Friday interview on MSNBC.

“So to the extent of those comments, they might be in some way misinterpreted as leading to sort of a hyperventilating attitude here in the Senate about this, I apologize for that,” Mr. Coons said. “That’s not what I was trying to do.”

At the same time, he said, “I am confident that intelligence exists that is relevant to this question. Not that says there is collusion, and proof of it, that’s not what I was trying to say.”

His comments Friday went viral after an MSNBC producer for host Andrea Mitchell tweeted, “Sen. Coons tells @mitchellreports that the FBI has transcripts that may show Russian leaders colluding with the Trump campaign.”

“There are transcripts that provide very helpful, very critical insights into whether or not Russian intelligence and senior Russian political leaders, including Vladimir Putin, were cooperating with, colluding with the Trump campaign at the highest levels to influence the outcome of our election,” Mr. Coons told MSNBC.

Of the transcripts, he said, “I have not seen them. I believe they exist.”

The episode had Republicans and others comparing Mr. Coons’ statement to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s famous 1950 assertion that he had a list of at least 200 “known Communists” working in the State Department.

Fox’s Chris Wallace asked Mr. Coons whether there was a “whiff of McCarthyism for you as a U.S. senator to say there are transcripts out there that provide insight into whether or not there was collusion, but you don’t even know whether they exist?”

“Well, to be clear, Chris, what I was trying to encourage was that the [Senate] intelligence committee be given access to the raw intelligence,” Mr. Coons said. “I’ve been told now that that’s going to happen this coming week and I think that’s positive and productive.”

Mr. Coons’ Friday interview followed a theme set by other Democrats: that FBI Director James Comey, in closed-door briefings, may not have been forthcoming in disclosing all he knows about possible Trump-Russia contacts.

The New York Times reported last month that the FBI has evidence of “repeated contacts” between Trump campaign staff and Russian intelligence. In other words: evidence of collision.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has said that the FBI deputy director told him the New York Times story was “BS.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said such contacts never happened and has called the Times stories “false.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, California Republican, has said at two press conferences that he has seen no evidence of Trump-Russia contacts or collusion during the campaign.

Both the Senate and House Intelligence committees are investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election via propaganda and by hacking into the Democratic Party emails. A key question is whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russian intelligence, which directed the cyberattacks.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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