On CNN, Clapper Does a 180 About FBI Spying on Trump Campaign

April 12th, 2019 1:13 PM

Appearing on CNN’s New Day Thursday, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper weighed in on Attorney General William Barr’s testimony on Capitol Hill earlier in the week; particularly taking issue with his declaration that “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign at the hands of the intelligence community. Clapper also told co-host Alisyn Camerota that he could not “speak specifically” to what the FBI did, an apparent 180 from his denial that the FBI spied on the Trump campaign during an appearance on The View a year earlier.

On an episode of The View in May 2018, co-host Joy Behar asked Clapper point-blank “was the FBI spying on Trump’s campaign?” Clapper gave her a definitive answer: “no, they were not.” He went on to declare that “they were spying on, a term I don’t particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing.”



Based on his appearance on The View, it seemed like Clapper had extensive knowledge of the FBI’s behavior in counterintelligence investigations related to the 2016 Presidential Election. However, nearly a year later, he seemed to have developed a case of amnesia. Camerota asked Clapper why the Trump campaign did not know sooner that a counterintelligence investigation was taking place, Clapper responded: “I can’t speak, specifically...to what the FBI did.”



Camerota did not bring up Clapper’s earlier statement on The View as the former DNI continued to stress that he did not know “what the decision calculus was” by the FBI when it came to not alerting the Trump campaign about the investigation into Russian meddling prior to Clapper’s meeting with the then President-elect in Trump Tower just weeks before inauguration day. His 180 when it came to his knowledge of the FBI’s spying on the Trump campaign is hardly the first time Clapper has developed a case of convenient amnesia.

As Clapper testified on Capitol Hill in 2013, Senator Ron Wyden asked him “does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper responded with a “no” and ensured Wyden that the intelligence community did “not wittingly” spy on Americans. Clapper’s assertion was later proven false and co-host Meghan McCain pressed him on it during his appearance on The View last year.

Clapper strongly pushed back on the idea that he lied to Congress, telling McCain he “made a mistake” because he was “thinking about something else.” As the late Bre Payton pointed out in an article for The Federalist, Wyden “did not ask Clapper about a specific program. Wyden simply asked if the NSA was collecting any data at all on millions of Americans, and Clapper said no. As it turns out, his response was a lie, plain and simple.”

In spite of the aforementioned examples of Clapper’s loose relationship with the truth, Camerota closed the segment by telling Clapper to “keep your phone handy” and promising to have him “on speed dial as all of this unfolds.” If she really wanted to protect CNN’s reputation as the “facts first” network, Camerota might want to rethink that offer.

A transcript of the relevant portion of Thursday’s edition of New Day is below. Click “expand” to read more.

New Day With Alisyn Camerota and John Berman


08:43 AM

ALISYN CAMEROTA: I wanted to ask you about what we saw yesterday from the Attorney General, Bill Barr, in front of the Senate. You called it stunning and scary, those are your words, that Barr would raise…would use the word “spying.” So can you tell me what was scary about that to you?

CLAPPER: Well, spying has…a term I have never liked. I never liked that term being applied to me, even though I spent 50 years in the, in the intelligence business. It, it has a bad connotation. It’s a pejorative term. It smacks of illegality, a lack of oversight, all those kind of things. And that wasn’t the case here. I…my concern in all this, as it was when I served as DNI, was the Russians and what the Russians were doing. And to the extent that there was surveillance of anyone, it had…it was occasioned by contacts with Russians who were targets, validated foreign intelligence targets. And we sort of lost sight of that and, and the threat that the Russians pose, because that’s how this all started, is the Russian meddling. So when the Attorney General…and I believe he used that term deliberately. You know, he’s been the Attorney General before, so he’s, he’s not unfamiliar with, with all this, I thought it was, it was quite stunning.


CLAPPER: And apparently he’s…his concern is more broadly to the intelligence community at large, not, not just the FBI. So I’m very interested in what it is that gives him concern.

CAMEROTA: Yeah, he was unclear. He did not expound on what gave him concern. It sounded like he was open to being concerned and he was going to wait to hear what the inspector general had to say. But I want to talk about how the…what you hear Republicans saying and the President is that they should have alerted…if there was an investigation, a counterintelligence investigation that involved the Trump campaign, they should have alerted the Trump campaign. Now, you were the person who, in January of 2017, one of the people, went to tell the then President-elect that all of this was swirling around and he had already been alerted that Russians were trying to interfere in the campaign. And so should the campaign have known before that date that you went over there that there was an investigation…possibly a counterintelligence investigation involving some people connected to the campaign?

CLAPPER: Well, the…I can’t speak specifically, Alisyn, to what the FBI did. I, I believe, but I don’t know for sure, but I believe they did give kind of standard defensive briefings after the candidates were designated after their respective conventions. When the two candidates emerged, we started, as is customary, intelligence briefings for both candidates…

CAMEROTA: But should it have gone…

CLAPPER: And those… those intelligence briefings include…

CAMEROTA: …I mean should it have gone deeper?

CLAPPER: Those intelligence briefings included reporting on the Russian meddling that was ongoing.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. So when you hear different Republican lawmakers say, how dare they not alert the campaign that there was this counterintelligence investigation, are they right or wrong?

CLAPPER: Well, I don’t know what the decision calculus here was by, by the FBI contemporaneously. But I do know, as a, as a general rule, with…particularly with respect to a counterintelligence investigation, that when you start it, you want to be sure your…who is potentially complicit and who isn’t, and there is a…as a general rule of thumb, you try to be as cloistered and compartmented about such investigations for all kinds of good reasons. So, again, I don’t know what the decision calculus was at the time, contemporaneously the FBI used. It’s my understanding they did give general counterintelligence briefings specifically focused, I believe, on the Russians.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. It’s good to get that context. Director James Clapper, keep your phone handy. We’ll have you on speed dial as all of this unfolds. Thank you very much.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Alisyn.


A transcript of the relevant portion of the relevant exchange between Behar and Clapper on The View is below. 


The View


11:29 AM

JOY BEHAR: But the, the FBI started to look into Trump’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016. Trump tweeted that this spring…this spying rather, the spying; he claims it’s spying. Other people say it’s a whistleblower or an informant. He says it’s spying, is bigger than Watergate. So I ask you, was the FBI spying on Trump’s campaign?

JAMES CLAPPER: No, he…they were not. They were spying on, a term I don’t particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing, trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence.