This is a harrowing quote from James Clapper that should send chills down everyone’s spine.
But there are some key words in there that have been omitted from people's recaps of Clapper's statement, and by sharing his words without their proper context, it comes off like the former Director of National Intelligence is making this statement based off actual intelligence. This is why I didn't quote him directly in my title, because the context comes after Clapper's line. After CNN's Jim Sciutto pressed him on his shocking statement, Clapper clarified that the situation had the “appearance” he described, and that he meant it “figuratively.” This is a former intel chief being asked his opinion on something, and he gave it. But when you share it like this, it comes off as far more damning than it is.
We should not discount Clapper’s words, since they come from a point of expertise, but anyone simply repeating them without properly contextualizing them is doing a disservice to this narrative. We must be hyper-vigilant about not giving Donald Trump “fake news” wins, so first off, James Clapper said back in March that he did not see any evidence for what he is now implying in this assertion that Trump is Putin’s “asset.” Per his March 5th appearance on Meet the Press:
Chuck Todd: “Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?”
Clapper: “We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, ‘our,’ that’s NSA, FBI and CIA, with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report.”
Todd: “I understand that. But does it exist?”
Clapper: “Not to my knowledge.”
So what changed? Or is it possible to become Putin’s asset without any improper contacts? Clapper’s statements on this topic don’t make sense when all considered together, so we need some clarification. Given how much has been revealed this year, it’s entirely reasonable to think that Clapper left DNI before the truly damning information rose up to the top of the chain, but we need an explanation on why he thinks this. Breathlessly reporting a shocking statement from Clapper without challenging him on why he’s seemingly done a 180 on this topic is bad journalism. Also, any story that relies on James Clapper’s credibility must include this video of the worst poker tell in human history.
That’s the former Director of National Intelligence lying under oath to Congress. This slide from the Snowden leaks proved Clapper’s testimony to be false, as the NSA’s own systems revealed that they surveilled Americans at a comparable rate to the Chinese.
One year later, Clapper walked back his outright lie, writing in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, “I realized later Sen. Wyden was asking about … metadata collection, rather than content collection. Thus, my response was clearly erroneous, for which I apologize.”
America has a tendency to assume that anyone in law enforcement has unimpeachable credentials, and their word should be taken as gospel. James Clapper directly repudiated this statement nine months ago, and lied under oath to Congress. If he were not a former intel chief, we would be questioning his credibility based on these two events alone—but we don’t—because so much of this Trump-Russia narrative is wish fulfillment. We just want America’s most unqualified president ever gone, and we don’t really care how he leaves. The problem is that by elevating people like James Clapper to be above questioning, we are doing long-term damage to our country that another, more organized tyrant could come in and easily exploit. I’m not saying that James Clapper is wrong, just that we should be asking him to provide some evidence for why he is right.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.