Last week I wrote about the evidence presented in the House Intelligence Committee report on Russia which stated that James Clapper had admitted leaking information on the Steele dossier to CNN’s Jake Tapper. That was significant because former FBI Director James Comey has said it was Clapper who told him to brief Trump at a time when Comey knew CNN and other media outlets were looking for a “news hook” to publish the material in the dossier. As it turned out, just days after the Clapper-requested briefing, CNN published a story about the dossier using the briefing itself as its “news hook.” So it appeared that Clapper might have ordered the briefing and then leaked the info back to CNN as a way to get the dossier into the news.
Today, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler looks at that argument and says it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. He points out that Clapper’s testimony to the House Intel Committee wasn’t actually very clear about the timing of his discussion with Jake Tapper. Here’s the exchange:
Q:Did you discuss the dossier or any other intelligence related to Russia hacking of the 2016 election with journalists?
Q:Did you confirm or corroborate the contents of the dossier with CNN journalist Jake Tapper?
CLAPPER: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 all over the place. The media had it by the way. We were kind of behind the power curve, because the media, many media outlets that I understood had that, had the dossier for some time, as did people on the Hill.
Q:Was it your testimony earlier that you did, in fact, discuss the so-called dossier with CNN journalist Jake Tapper?
CLAPPER:Well, after it was out, yeah.
Q:And by out, what do you mean by that?
CLAPPER:Well, once it was public. It wasn’t — you know, it wasn’t like this is an Intelligence Community document or anything. This was out in the media.
Kessler admits that Clapper’s answers seem pretty vague. To clear up the confusion, Kessler asked Clapper directly when he spoke to Tapper:
“The first time I had any interaction with Jake Tapper was on May 14,” he said, referring to a 2017 appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” This was after Clapper became a CNN commentator – and four months after Comey’s briefing with Trump…
Clapper said the majority report “deliberately conflated” his interview to make it appear he had spoken to Tapper in January, but he insisted that was not the case.
“I did not leak the dossier” when he was in government, he said. “I didn’t talk out about it with the media.” By the time he left government, when Trump took the oath of office, the dossier was public. But in any case, he did not speak to Tapper about it until May — the first time they ever spoke.
So Clapper told the House Intel Committee his talk with Jake Tapper was “pretty close to when we briefed it.” The briefing took place in January. But he tells Kessler he only talked to Tapper in May. May does not seem “pretty close” to January to me.
Clapper’s denial is hurt by the fact that he has a history of being less than forthcoming. Recall his Senate testimony about surveillance which turned out not to be true. So is he telling the truth now, knowing that if he admitted to leaking the briefing to CNN, he’d be admitting to something which could suggest he staged the entire incident? Simply put, what else would you expect Clapper to say under these circumstances? Even if Clapper’s House testimony were more clear, how credible is he on this?
Someone who knew CNN was hot to get the dossier before the public made that possible by leaking word of the briefing Clapper ordered within days of it happening. If it wasn’t Clapper, who was it? And did that person have the same goal previously attributed to Clapper, i.e. to give CNN the excuse it needed to get this DNC funded oppo-research out in public?