Former DNI James Clapper called himself part of "the loyal opposition" in an interview Thursday morning on CNN about President Trump's decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA director John O. Brennan. Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, is considered a prospect to get his clearance taken away as well as former FBI director James Comey, a Republican, and Ret. Gen. Michael Hayden, an independent.
The Trump administration said Brennan is profiting off his public service and the status of holding a security clearance with cable news appearances.
"This is controversial, a lot of people don't agree with it," Clapper said of revoking security clearances. "But I think once you are not in an official position, you're free to speak your mind. And that's one of the great, at least in the past, it's one of the great strengths of this country."
"I think there is such a thing as kind of loyal opposition here," he said of the crew. "I think we have great respect for the office of the presidency and great concerns about the current occupant."
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: One of those people is James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, current CNN national security analyst. And former director Clapper joins us right now. Thank you so much for being with us.
And we know more now about why the president revoked John Brennan's security clearance and why he is threatening to revoke yours. The president tells us, through "The Wall Street Journal," and he said these words out loud, it's because of your involvement at the beginning of the Russian investigation. This is what the president said, just to be crystal-clear about this.
He says, "I call it the rigged witch hunt. It is a sham, and these people led it." He added, "So I think it is something that had to be done."
Something that had to be done, because you were part of the team initially concerned about the Russian cyberattack on the U.S. election. Your response?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I find this admission, candid admission, very disturbing, because first of all, the four of us that were involved in putting together the intelligence community assessment which we published on the 6th of January 2017. That is, Jim Comey, John Brennan, and Admiral Mike Rogers, then the director of NSA, and myself.
And what we focused on was the Russian meddling in our political process, which continues yet today, as has been affirmed by the current crop of I.C. and law enforcement leaders.
And so I find it very disturbing that here, we were in compliance with a request of the then-president of the United States to put into one document our insight and knowledge of the profound threat that Russia posed to this country.
And now, apparently, we're being punished for this. John already has been, and apparently others of us that were involved in that. That is very disturbing.
There was, just to be clear, nothing in that intelligence community assessment that said anything about collusion. And we did not draw on the dossier as a source for that report. Now, it's true that was the -- led to a sequence of events, and it did serve as a catalyst for the Mueller investigation.
As to collusion, well, I've learned some things, as has John, about that, although from a legal standpoint, I think that's yet to be proven. Certainly, the president's exhortation to the Russians on the 27th of July f 2016 to go find the missing 30,000 e-mails, which as revealed in the latest indictment by Special Counsel Mueller against the 12 GRU officers, which reflects they did -- they complied with his request. After hours, that very day, they tried to find those -- those e-mails.
Now, I don't know the legal definition of collusion or not. Certainly, the Trump Tower meeting reflected an intent to collude. And of course, why all these many meetings with Russian officials?
That's why it's so important that the Mueller investigation be -- as John said in his op-ed, be allowed to continue and to finish without interference from anyone. We have to remove this cloud from this presidency and -- and this country. And there is a dark cloud over us because of all this.
BERMAN: I want to go into much further detail about several of the things you just said. But just to be clear I see by the nature of how you're talking this morning that if it was the president's attempt to intimidate you or silence you about your critique of some of his actions, that hasn't worked.
CLAPPER: Well, no. As Mike Hayden said last night, I don't think it's -- doing this is going to affect what we think, write or say.
BERMAN: All right. You brought up the president's statements during the campaign in 2016 where, again, out loud -- and so much of this has been out loud, from the campaign days to last night, when he told "The Wall Street Journal" that he wants to revoke these security clearances because of the launch of the Russia investigation. In 2016, he called on the Russians to go find Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Just listen to that again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So, just moments ago, former CIA director John Brennan writes of that moment, "Such a public clarion call certainly makes one wonder what Mr. Trump privately encouraged his advisors to do and what they actually did to win an election. While I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware -- thanks to the reporting of an open and free press -- of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services." And he goes on to say the president's claims of no collusion are hogwash.
Your assessment of what the former director said?
CLAPPER: Well, I think John raises good points. And he is expressing an -- what I would call an informed opinion, which he is clearly entitled to do. I think in the end, though, there needs to be an official determination made about this, and that, I think, can only be done by the Mueller investigation.
BERMAN: Based on what you have seen, whether you're willing to tell us what you saw while you were were director of national intelligence or what you've seen from the public reporting since, do you agree with former director Brennan that the president's claims of no collusion are hogwash?
CLAPPER: Well, I don't know that I'd use that word, but again, sort of in plain sight, things we've learned since we left the government -- and we weren't aware -- we weren't aware of the Trump Tower meeting. And we -- I wasn't aware, at least, of the Russian compliance with the president -- candidate Trump's request on the 27th of July.
So, you know, whether that's -- meets the definition of collusion, which in itself is not a legal proposition. But I think in the end, and John's, his belief is there was collusion, and the president's denials are hogwash. And John is entitled to that. He's been a very harsh and open critic of the president.
From my perspective, I think from a legal standpoint, whether there was a conspiracy here or not, that's not for me to say. I think that is up to the Mueller investigation.
BERMAN: You call some of what former Director Brennan has said harsh. Do you believe, in terms of what you think and your opinion, has it been too harsh?
CLAPPER: No, I'm not -- I'm not going to render a value judgment there. I mean, John is entitled to his perspective. I think philosophically, we're probably in agreement. I might express things differently than John does or than Mike Hayden does, but I think, in the end, the -- our -- the broad outlines here is our genuine concern about the threats to the institutions of this country. And that's what I think motivates all of us. We feel a duty and an obligation to speak up about this. We may express ourselves differently, but I think in the end, we're pretty much on the same page.
BERMAN: Much of what you say and are asked to comment on deals in the realm of national security and intelligence.
Former director Brennan has branched out beyond that, and he was very critical of the president over the last few days for some of the comments that the president made that many people deem as flat-out racist. Former director Brennan talked about the president calling Omarosa a dog. And the former director wrote, "It's astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, and probity."
Again, is it one thing to comment on issues dealing with national security, and should a former director of the CIA stay out of that other side of the discussion?
CLAPPER: Well, I think once you become a -- my view is -- and this is controversial, a lot of people don't agree with it -- but I think once you are not in an official position, you're free to speak your mind. And that's one of the great, at least in the past, it's one of the great strengths of this country.
And I think there is such a thing as kind of loyal opposition here. I think we have great respect for the office of the presidency and great concerns about the current occupant.
BERMAN: Well, there is such a thing as freedom of speech. Correct? It is something that is specifically protected. One is supposed to be able to share their views openly and freely and publicly. Correct?
CLAPPER: Exactly, and that to me is the larger implication here with the -- this revocation of John's eligibility and the threat for the others, myself included. It's -- it has not to do not with our access to classified information. I haven't had any access to classified information since I left the government.
The larger implication here is the jeopardy to our First Amendment rights, and by extension, others. And by the way, there's a very chilling message here to people in the intelligence community. If you tee up intelligence that the president doesn't like, you may risk losing your clearance and, thereby, your job.
BERMAN: In fact, that's exactly what the president said to "The Wall Street Journal." Again, I'm going to read this again. He says, "I call it a rigged witch hunt. It is a sham, and these people led it." He's talking about you, John Brennan, James Comey and others, who were at the forefront of the Russia investigation, the Russia attack on the U.S. election. He says, "So I think it's something that had to be done." He's talking about revoking the security clearance of former director Brennan there. He doesn't leave any mystery about why he did it.
Now, you say that you haven't accessed any classified information since you left. But you have been reached out to by the current intelligence community for your advice on things. Isn't that correct? You've had conversations with people who are still there?
CLAPPER: I've had -- yes, I've consulted with people in the administration, senior people. And obviously, I'm not going to name them.
CLAPPER: To protect them. I don't -- and what they're drawing on is not access to current classified investigation. They're drawing on our history, on the corporate memory, as I did when I was in the government, and I consulted with prior DNIs, and I was an agency director twice for almost nine years. I drew on the expertise of those who had preceded me. Sometimes I asked why they made certain decisions that they made.
Now, that's useful. I don't know that it was ever crucial. And that's the case here.
BERMAN: Useful, sometimes, can mean a lot. John Brennan, famously, he was in the room. He was in the situation room during the raid on the bin Laden compound, where U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. He was a key player in that. One could conceive, one could think of a situation, perhaps, dealing with al Qaeda now, associates with bin Laden, where the intelligence community might want to tap into Brennan's knowledge of that, update him on a current operation, and say, "Hey, based on what you knew then, is there a connection here? Could you help us out?" That's not inconceivable, is it?
CLAPPER: Well, that's quite possible, and I would just note that I was standing next to John in that same iconic picture taken by Pete Souza.
CLAPPER: And, you know, people want to draw on that experience and that expertise, they can. It's not essential, and it's not crucial, but it can sometimes be very useful.
BERMAN: What statement does it make that the president is taking this official action without suggesting in any way -- and you didn't see it in Sarah Sanders's statement from the White House press room. You didn't see it in the document she produced, and you didn't even see it in the president's open admission about his justification to "The Wall Street Journal." There's not a single accusation in any way that Brennan, or the others on this list, any of you, have done anything wrong with the classified information.
CLAPPER: Well, exactly. And I think Phil Mudd alluded to that in a previous segment, that that's typically why a clearance -- people's clearances are put in jeopardy, if they mishandle or divulge classified information. And I don't think there's been any -- you know, any evidence of that presented at all. We haven't had access to it. BERMAN: In fact, it was President Trump behind closed doors, as his
prerogative, to give classified information to the Russians when he met with some of them early on in the administration.
It is notable, if you look at this list, it doesn't include any loyalists to the president. Perhaps not surprising. What is surprising is that his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, who had pled guilty to lying to investigators, and who made very political statements, not unlike some of the ones that have been made, probably much harsher, in fact, than the ones that have been made by most of the people on this list, he still has his security clearance. If John Brennan doesn't have his security clearance, Michael Flynn?
CLAPPER: Well, I don't know -- I actually don't know, John, what Mike Flynn's security clearance status is, so I don't know if he has it -- has one or not. I don't think he does.
But all that, his omission from the list is simply proof positive, I think, of what this is really about. It's an enemies list to get at people that have been critical or who have taken actions that, you know, he didn't like. And that's -- that, to me, is a pretty chilling message.
BERMAN: Former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, a man on the unwanted list, as it is now called. Thanks so much for being with us.
CLAPPER: Thanks, John.