When candidate Donald Trump claimed his 2016 campaign had been the target of a spying campaign, the old-line establishment media reacted with derision. Since Trump’s 2016 victory, it has become more apparent that the spying was real, and part of an intelligence operation to exonerate Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton, frame the victorious president on fake charges of colluding with Russia, and ultimately drive him from office.
A key player for the previous administration is former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper, who now holds forth on MSNBC. On Tuesday, Joy Behar asked Clapper if the FBI had been spying on the Trump campaign.
“No, they were not,” said Clapper, DNI from 2010-2017. “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 or influence — which is what they do.”
Clapper also said, “With the informant business, well, the point here is the Russians. Not spying on the campaign but what are the Russians doing? And in a sense, unfortunately, what they were trying to do is protect our political system and protect the campaign.”
“Well,” Behar wondered, “why doesn't he like that? He should be happy.”
Clapper agreed that “he should be,” but the president didn’t think so.
“No, James Clapper, I am not happy,” tweeted President Trump, who has been citing “confidential informants” in his campaign and saying “this is bigger than Watergate.”
The notion that the spying was to “protect” Trump’s campaign and the nation was hardly the only whopper from Clapper. He was also a bust as Director of National Intelligence, an office with a short and curious history.
After 9/11 the first response should have been military but instead it was bureaucratic, bulking up an “intelligence community” already boasting 16 agencies. In February 2005, President Bush nominated John D. Negroponte, ambassador to Iraq, as the first director of national intelligence, followed by John McConnell and Dennis Blair. What value the DNI might have contributed to the war on terror was not apparent. When Blaire stepped down POTUS 44 picked Clapper, a former Air Force general, but even liberal Democrats had reservations.
“I believe the best thing for the U.S. Intelligence Community is to have someone with a civilian background in charge,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein told reporters. Clapper, a big supporter of drones, got the job anyway. He had previously headed the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, but as DNI he came across as agent 00$6.98.
In 2010, ABC’s Diane Sawyer asked Clapper about the arrest of 12 terrorist suspects in London. That drew a blank from the baffled Clapper, who knew nothing about the major anti-terrorist operation that nabbed suspects with ties to Pakistan and Bangladesh. John Brennan, then a homeland security advisor, twice said Clapper should have been briefed, but defended him as the “consummate DNI.”
The next year, Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is a “very heterogeneous group, largely secular.” The Brotherhood “has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam” and “have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt.” Clapper also said the Muslim Brotherhood has “no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally.” It was appalling nonsense that should have prompted Clapper’s dismissal, but the “consummate DNI” had not yet reached his peak performance.
In 2013 Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, asked Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied “No, sir,” then added, “not wittingly.” So like the DNI his own self, the mighty NSA didn’t know what it was doing.
Clapper’s performance earned the DNI the ninth annual Rosemary Award, named for the Nixon secretary who erased some 18 minutes of a Watergate tape. The left-leaning National Security Archive at George Washington University gives the award for the worst open-government performance. To be fair, that year the award also acknowledged FBI boss Robert Mueller and the Justice Department’s national security division for wiretap issues, and POTUS 44 for repeated misrepresentations about the bulk collection program.
As DNI for seven years, Clapper knew full well what was going on but wasn’t exactly up front about it. His exchange with Wyden came up again on Tuesday, when Meghan McCain told Clapper “In 2013 when you were asked about it, you said ‘no,’ So that is a lie.”
“I made a mistake,” Clapper said. “I didn’t lie. I was thinking about something else, another program.” And after further obfuscation he repeated, “So I made a mistake, but I didn’t lie.”
Actually, Clapper did lie, and he lied about his lies. That should rank him with Hillary Clinton, John Brennan, James Comey, and all those highly paid prevaricators in the DOJ and FBI.
Donald Trump was right that his campaign had been targeted for spying. He is also right that this is a national disgrace, and a scandal bigger than Watergate. The president should do everything in his power to get out the full truth. Those who committed crimes should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.