Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says in his decades of working on the Hill, he’s never lied while testifying.
During a hearing in 2013, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) grilled Clapper about covert surveillance against Americans. There has been debate about whether Clapper committed perjury during his testimony. Clapper stepped down as the director of national intelligence in November 2016.
Clapper has recently been making headlines for speaking out about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. His new book, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence, outlines the lead-up to the 2016 election and his time working in the intelligence community.
Worldview host Jerome McDonnell spoke with Clapper about the American intelligence community and his thoughts on Russian interference. Here are some interview highlights.
On the decision to speak out about Russian interference in the 2016 election
James Clapper: The inhibiting factors were if we spoke loudly and publicly about about this, particularly if President Obama did, would that serve only to amplify or magnify what the Russians were doing?
And the other factor, which I know weighed on President Obama’s mind, is if he were to speak out about it in a robust way. He was very concerned about the perception of putting his hand on the scale in favor of one candidate to the disfavor of the other. And of course, then-candidate Trump was already setting the scene for losing the election by alleging before it happened that [the election] would be rigged. And so, I think President Obama was very concerned about playing to that narrative.
On whether he lied while testifying in a 2013 congressional committee hearing
Clapper: Sen. Wyden asked a question that was, for me, rather euphemistic … I simply wasn’t thinking about what he was asking about.
I’ve been testifying on the Hill, at that point, for about 20 or 25 years. I probably testified dozens of times in both open and closed hearings. I’ve answered probably thousands of questions. So, it’s kind of incredulous on its face that, “Gee, just for a change of pace, I think I’ll lie on this one question. And by the way, I’ll do it on live television in front of one of my oversight committees who probably knew the answer.”
And by the way, even if I were the same page with Sen. Wyden, and I did understand what he was asking about, I still would have been in a bad place because at the time the program was classified.
Jerome McDonnell: You think he probably knew the answer to the question he was asking anyway?
Clapper: I think so. Frankly, Sen. Wyden set a trap for me, and I fell into it. My bad.
On his belief Russia turned the 2016 Presidential Election
Clapper: As a private citizen, and having a pretty good understanding of the magnitude and the diversity of modes that the Russians employed to influence our vote — and then when you consider that the election turned on about 80,000 votes or so in three states — to me, it stretches logic and credulity to assert that the Russians had no impact. And I think they did have a big impact and that they turned the election because it was really on such a narrow margin.
Throughout the campaign, what the Russians were saying and doing was very parallel to what the Trump campaign was saying and doing. Not suggesting collusion, [there isn’t] any proof of that, and I said so in the book. But, it’s very striking that they were almost an echochamber for each other, particularly when it came to Hillary Clinton.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview, which was adapted for the web by Bea Aldrich.