Clapper on Trump Spying: I Can't Speak Specifically To What The FBI Did

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Former Director of National Intelligence and CNN contributor James Clapper said he has never liked the term "spying" being applied to him, calling it a "pejorative term."

"Spying has is a term I have never... liked that term being applied to me, even though I spent 50 years in the intelligence business. 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," Clapper said Thursday on CNN.





ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: All right, we need you on standby because obviously we are waiting for those charges to be unsealed. We believe at any moment now. And so, obviously, I'll go back to that when that happens.

In the meantime, 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?

JAMES CLAPPER, FMR. DIRECTOR NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, spying has -- a term I have never. I never liked that term being applied to me, even though I spent 50 years in the intelligence business. 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 of 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 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 not unfamiliar with all this, I thought it was quite stunning.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

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

CAMEROTA: Yes, 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 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. And those -- those intelligence briefings include --

CAMEROTA: But should it have gone -- I mean should it have gone deeper?

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

CAMEROTA: Yes. 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 the FBI contemporaneously. But I do know, 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.

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