Chuck Ross, DCNF
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave inconsistent testimony to a House panel about his contacts with CNN’s Jake Tapper regarding the infamous Steele dossier, according to a report released by congressional Republicans on Friday.
The report, published by the GOP side of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, shows that Clapper acknowledged speaking with Tapper about the dossier while he was still serving as director of national intelligence.
That is in direct conflict with Clapper’s claim to CNN’s Don Lemon in March that he did not interact with the media prior to leaving the Obama administration on Jan. 20, 2017.
“I didn’t have any contact with media until after I left the government on the 20th of January, so I don’t quite understand, at least what I’ve read, that somehow I leaked about the dossier,” Clapper told Lemon in the interview.
“So you didn’t leak anything about the dossier to any media?” Lemon asked.
“No, not — I mean, I talked about it after I left the government, but not during that period, and certainly not between the 6th of January and the 10th when the president-elect himself talked about it.”
CNN, where Clapper is now a national security analyst, played a crucial role in the dossier saga.
On Jan. 10, 2017, the network published a story written by Tapper and three other CNN journalists revealing that on Jan. 6, then-President-elect Donald Trump was briefed on the salacious allegations laid out in the dossier, which was written by former British spy Christopher Steele and funded by Democrats.
CNN used that briefing as a hook to publish its story about the existence of the dossier, which included allegations that Trump was being blackmailed. BuzzFeed News used CNN’s report as a news hook of its own, publishing the dossier in full later on Jan. 10, 2017.
CNN’s report cited “multiple U.S. officials” as sources. The sources remain unidentified.
It has since been revealed that then-FBI Director James Comey conducted Trump’s private briefing on the dossier’s unverified allegations. Memos that Comey wrote following his meetings with Trump showed that CNN was looking for a “news hook” to release information about the dossier.
Comey wrote in a memo following that briefing that he explained to Trump that “media like CNN had [the dossier] and were looking for a news hook.”
“I also explained that one of the reasons we told him was that the media, CNN in particular, was telling us they were about to run with it,” Comey wrote in a Jan. 28, 2017 memo following a dinner meeting with Trump.
In their report, House Intel Republicans assert that when Clapper was initially asked about leaks during his July 17, 2017 committee interview, he “flatly denied” discussing the Steele dossier “or any other intelligence related to Russia hacking of the 2016 election with journalists.”
But Clapper “subsequently acknowledged discussing” the dossier with Tapper. He also admitted he might have spoken with other journalists.
Committee Republicans note that Clapper’s interaction with Tapper took place in early January 2017, “around the time [Intelligence Community] leaders briefed President Obama and President-elect Trump, on ‘the Christopher Steele information.’”
In a report of their own released on Friday, Democrats claimed that Republicans had an “intent to smear Clapper” with their allegations about his media contacts.
“Despite this dark insinuation, the report neither cites evidence, nor even alleges, that Clapper disclosed information – classified or unclassified – illegally or improperly,” Democrats write, noting that Clapper was authorized to engage with the media.
Democrats pointed to an exchange that Clapper had with Florida Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican.
“Did you discuss the dossier or any other intelligence related to Russia hacking of the 2016 election with journalists?” Rooney asked.
“No,” said Clapper.
“Did you confirm or corroborate the contents of the dossier with CNN journalist Jake Tapper?” Rooney asked.
“Well, by the time of that, they already knew about it. By the time it was — it was after — I don’t know exactly the sequence there, but it was pretty close to when we briefed it and when it was out ail over the place. The media had it by the way,” said Clapper.
Clapper said later that he discussed the dossier with Tapper after the document was made public. He said he did not remember specifics of his conversation with the CNN anchor.
“Did you discuss the dossier with any other journalists besides Mr. Tapper?” Clapper was asked.
“I could have. I don’t remember specifically talking about the dossier,” he replied.
CNN did not respond to a request for comment.