On Tuesday, James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, went on “The View” – weird, right? – to talk about President Donald Trump and the intelligence community.
During that interview, this exchange happened between Clapper and co-host Joy Behar:
BEHAR: “So I ask you, was the FBI spying on Trump’s campaign?”
CLAPPER: “No, 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 or influence which is what they do.”
BEHAR: “Well, why doesn’t [Trump] like that? He should be happy.”
CLAPPER: “He should be.”
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Clapper makes crystal clear that the FBI was not spying on the Trump campaign. And he also makes clear that while he doesn’t like the word “spying” – because we are talking about the use of a confidential source – that, to the extent there was any information gathering happening in conversations between the FBI’s informant and members of the Trump campaign, it was entirely designed to shed light on Russian meddling efforts related to the 2016 election.
In the hands of Trump, however, Clapper’s words have become anything but straightforward.
Early Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted this about the Clapper interview:
“‘Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign’ No, James Clapper, I am not happy. Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot!”
Then, answering reporters’ question on Wednesday afternoon, Trump said this: “I mean if you look at Clapper … he sort of admitted that they had spies in the campaign yesterday inadvertently. I hope it’s not true, but it looks like it is.”
NO. HE. DIDN’T.
Clapper did the exact opposite of what Trump is saying he did. Literally. Clapper said that the FBI didn’t spy on the Trump campaign. He said that the only information gathering that happened with the confidential source was related to Russian interference. We know that the confidential source spoke to George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, two Trump advisers, only after the Justice Department had reason to believe they had been in contact with Russians.
The intellectual dishonesty here is almost beyond calculation.
On Thursday, Trump went after Clapper in a tweet again, saying, “Clapper has now admitted that there was Spying in my campaign. Large dollars were paid to the Spy, far beyond normal. Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history. SPYGATE - a terrible thing!”
But any honest reading of the entirety of what Clapper said – and you can read the whole quote in about 15 seconds! – makes clear that a) Clapper doesn’t believe the FBI was spying on Trump’s campaign and b) the information gathering being done by the FBI’s confidential source was aimed at Russia and designed to protect Trump and his associates, not to mention American democracy more broadly.
There is simply no other conclusion that can be drawn from Clapper’s quotes. This isn’t a “many sides” issue. There is the side that’s accurate and the side that’s inaccurate. And the President of the United States is in the latter camp.