Articles

The Putin Files: James Clapper


JIM GILMORE – Let’s start with Vladimir
Putin. You’ve said in the past that he was kind
of a throwback in a way, his vision of Russia as a great power and such. Give us a taste. You followed him for a long, long time. Give us a taste of who Vladimir Putin is,
what motivates him and what his vision is. JAMES CLAPPER – Well, I think Putin is a throwback. At least, my assessment of him is he’s a
throwback to the czar era, not so much the communist era. He does have this vision, which he’s internalized,
of a great Russia and the very expansive definition of who’s a Russian—anyone who speaks Russian
is, by definition, according to him, a citizen of Russia—and his KGB background, which
for him, instinctively, inherently makes him highly suspicious of the West, and most specifically
the United States, whom he holds responsible for virtually all ills that have befallen
the Soviet Union and then Russia. In fact, he characterized the demise of the
Soviet Union, the fall of the [Berlin] Wall, as the greatest geopolitical disaster of the
20th century. So I think that’s what motivates him… JIM GILMORE – … How has that affected how
our government, different administrations, have had to deal with him? Have we been savvy to that? Have we learned along the way? Does each administration have to relearn the
same lessons? JAMES CLAPPER – To a certain extent, I think
each administration has had to learn the lesson over again. Everybody wants to, depending on your phrase,
do a reset, start over; let’s clean slate, whatever phrase you want to use, to try to
get along with the Russians. And the current administration is no different,
although they seem, to me, to be extra solicitous of Russia generally, and Putin specifically,
in ways I don’t exactly understand. But in one way or another, one form or another,
virtually all administrations, particularly since the demise of the Soviet Union, have
attempted to find a new way, turn the page with Russia, with pretty much the same results. JIM GILMORE – And those results are? JAMES CLAPPER – In the end, given Putin’s
individual suspicions, resentment of the West and the United States specifically, where
he is ultimately bent on undermining us and our system, the results for each administration,
as they’ve try to replow new ground with the Russians, have been predictable and consistent. JIM GILMORE – The Obama administration came
in, and they also thought that they could get a reset. They worked at it for a couple years, and
it went downhill pretty quickly, to the point where 2011or 2012, Hillary Clinton makes this
famous statement about the fact that the parliamentary elections were not completely kosher. Putin takes great offense. The fact that his population in Russia is
demonstrating against that issue, as well as the fact that he is coming back into power
in 2012, he blames Clinton. Just talk a little bit about that period of
time, about the American government’s view of what was going on over there, and how Putin,
paranoically in a lot of ways, reacts to us. JAMES CLAPPER – Putin held the United States
and specifically then-Secretary of State Clinton responsible for fomenting what he thought,
what he suspected was a color revolution in Russia. [There is] general animus for both Clintons
on Putin’s part. Very strong animus toward both of them. In President Clinton’s case, Putin just
felt as though he’d been dissed by President Clinton; that, compounded by what he was convinced
in his own mind, was an attempt at a color revolution, and to unseat him. He was convinced that the administration,
led by Secretary Clinton, was out for regime change. So that is the source of the animus that we
believe motivated Putin to interfere as much as he did, and as aggressively as the Russians
did, because of the strong animus toward her personally. JIM GILMORE – So let’s talk about the elections. But just before the elections, 2015, it’s
been reported you were raising red flags. You were seeing things happening, what the
Russians were doing, getting involved, getting into systems within government, computer systems
in America. What were you seeing? What were you worried about? And what was the reaction of people when you
would raise the red flags? JAMES CLAPPER – First, understand that there
was a history for this. If you go back to actually the 1960s, there
was evidence of Russians attempting to interfere with or influence somehow the outcome of our
elections, not very successfully. But given the advent of all the technology
now which has had the effect of generating more tools and techniques for the Russians
to employ, to interfere, so there’s a certain ambient level that we would expect the Russians
to engage in anyway. In this case, though, as we documented it
in our intelligence community assessment that we published on the 6th of January, this was
the most aggressive and most direct and most assertive campaign that the Russians ever
mounted in the history of our elections to interfere and to somehow influence the outcome. What characterized this, what [made] the 2016
campaign so different than the others, were the variety and intensity of the techniques
that they employed. Apart from the famous, or infamous, hacking
of the DNC emails and the exquisitely timed dumping of them were their use of very skillful,
sophisticated use of social media, social media trolls, planting fake news, very sophisticated,
slick propaganda campaign mounted by RT [Russia Today], which of course is a government propaganda
arm. So the combination of all these tools that
they use constituted this aggressiveness and the multidimensional nature of the campaign,
and that’s what distinguished it from any other in our history. JIM GILMORE – … When the hacking came on
your radar screen, was that the beginning of it, or were you seeing things before that? JAMES CLAPPER – It was during the summer or
so of 2015 that we began to see these indications, and certainly the hacking attempts at the
DNC, which primarily involved the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security engaging
with the DNC. Other things that began to unfold from then
on through the election, of course, were the instances of what I would call reconnoitering
by the Russian intelligence services into state-level databases, primarily voter registration
rolls, in many cases maintained by contractor by each of the states. It was curious, because, in some cases, it
almost seemed like they were deliberately being noisy, if I can use that term, air-quotes,
almost as though they wanted to telegraph what they were doing. And the other thing was, they didn’t appear
to extract or manipulate data. It was just as though as they were reconnoitering,
exploring—I surmise, but we don’t know—for future reference. In fact, it may have been that they intended
to attempt to interfere more directly at least at the state level in the election process. [Then-Director of the CIA] John Brennan suggested
that, because of the actions we took, and the dialogue that the president had with Putin,
and the dialogue that he [Brennan] had with his counterpart, that may have thwarted even
more aggressive actions that the Russians were contemplating but didn’t take. I don’t know that, but it’s certainly
a plausible hypothesis. For me, when the light bulb came on, or when
I reacted viscerally, physically, when I understood the magnitude of what they were doing, and
that it was in fact directed at the highest levels, orchestrated at the highest levels
of the Russian government, meaning Putin himself—I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff in my 50-plus years
in intelligence—that really shook me, because of what this represented as an attempt to
undermine the very pillars of our democracy. JIM GILMORE – There were two set periods of
time, I guess. There’s the hacking period of time, the espionage,
and then there’s the first dumping of emails from the DNC just before the Democratic convention. What red flags did that set up? JAMES CLAPPER – I’ve been asked that question
a lot. When did the light bulb, what instant, what
day and time precisely, I can’t tell you. It just sort of unfolded to me. And the first instance—and I don’t remember
the exact date of this—was when I was made aware of the direction for this coming from
the highest levels of the Russian government. Sometime in August or September of 2016 is
when I had an appreciation for the magnitude and the threat that this posed to our system. JIM GILMORE – And when the WikiLeaks dump,
the first dump, comes out of DNC material in July, what’s going through your head when
you see that? JAMES CLAPPER – I can’t remember exactly when
the attribution of that was made. [It was] certainly curious. Of course attribution is not a trivial thing. And I don’t remember the time gap between
the revelation of that and the revelation of who we ascribed it to. So sometime in that period. Again, I didn’t memorize the chronology. I should have, since so many people ask me,
you know, a blow-by-blow and day-by-day basis. Bear in mind, lots of other things are going
on in the world besides this. JIM GILMORE – … So July, the special taskforce,
intelligence taskforce is happening. By August it’s been written in The [Washington]
Post and such that Brennan sends a CIA letter to the White House stipulating that Putin
ordered the cybercampaign to disrupt the election very specifically. That’s what we know at this point. This is when the White House first really
jumps onboard to a large extent? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, actually, the letter
was a formal notification. We had any number of meetings that, a small
group involved in discussing this. And again, I don’t remember the exact sequence
or the relationship of the timing between the letter or whatever notification that John
[Brennan] used. Almost coincidental with it were a series
of Principals Committee and NSC meetings involving the president himself that took place late
summer and into the fall of ’16. JIM GILMORE – But basically, by the summertime,
by August, this was all hands on deck, basically. JAMES CLAPPER – I think we pretty much had
the broad outlines of what was occurring. Of course, as things unfolded, as we acquired
more information from various sources, the puzzle pieces kind of came together and crystallized. JIM GILMORE – So just to go back on a couple
things that you’ve already talked a little bit about, but to get a little bit more detail,
the evidence that you guys are seeing is that the Russian government is running a campaign
and social media, as well as at other levels, aimed at causing havoc. They’re involved in lots of different states. We’ve been told that it’s specific, much
more specific than we thought, on certain voter groups. JAMES CLAPPER – I can’t speak to that. Again, that has come out since. At the time, I don’t know that we were at
that level of fidelity of insight in, say, summer of 2016, that they were focusing on
different voter groups or that sort of thing. What we were focused on is the nature of the
campaign they were mounting and what the objectives appear to be, first of which was to cast doubt
or cause doubt in the minds of the public or the electorate. And then secondly, of course, was this personal
animus Putin had toward Secretary Clinton. As things unfolded—because initially the
Russians, I don’t believe, took Trump seriously as a candidate, just like no one else did
either. But as things transpired, and particularly
when he became the Republican nominee, their focus kind of changed, I think, toward—even
when the polls indicated that Secretary Clinton was going to win—they were focused on how
to undermine her potential presidency, and then, when he became the nominee, what could
they do to favor him, because clearly, they would prefer him over her, notwithstanding
the animus toward her, just because he was known as a businessman, somebody you could
make deals with, and had had some prior dealings with the Russians. And the thought was that he would go easy,
for example, on human rights. All to say, their objectives, I think, evolved
as the campaign unfolded. JIM GILMORE – As the evidence came through
that you knew more and more about the sophistication of what they were doing, the idea that they
were focusing on certain groups because they understood that certain states were more important
than other states when it came to the vote, how successful were they at that, and how
scary was that? JAMES CLAPPER – One thing we made very clear
in the intelligence community assessment, and we certainly made it clear to President-elect
Trump and his team, when we briefed him on the 6th of January, was that we did not make
an assessment of the impact on the election, nor could we. All we did say was there was no impact. We didn’t see any meddling with voter tallies—not
to say there wasn’t any, just that we didn’t see evidence of it. And we made that quite clear. The intelligence community doesn’t have
the authority or the capability or the expertise to gauge what impact this Russian campaign
had on the minds of individual voters. So it’s hard to say. … JIM GILMORE – Give me your impressions of
this scenario. We’ve been told that there was an attempt
to get into systems, that the probable or reasoning behind it was to disrupt the election
in one way or another, maybe not to win it for Trump, but to certainly cause Clinton
problems after the election, because the evidence of the tampering could be used to say that
the election was fraudulent. JAMES CLAPPER – Well, again, those are all
plausible scenarios. But as I said, what we laid out in the intelligence
community assessment were the evolving objectives of this campaign on the part of the Russians. The first one was to sow doubt and discord
and discontent in our country about our system, in which the Russians, I think, exceeded beyond
their wildest expectations. Secondly, very strong animus to Secretary
Clinton. I don’t think it would have made any difference
who the Republican nominee is. That would have been prevalent in any event. Then, as things wore on, what could they do
to help Trump, whom they felt would be the better candidate and would be better for the
long-term interest of Russia? So those objectives evolved as they went on. Whether or not they had more aggressive things
in mind, I really don’t know. JIM GILMORE – And the evidence for this? I mean, Trump supporters will scream and shout
about the fact that, you know, there’s no evidence; it’s all fake news. The evidence for this is what? And if you can’t say now, when will we find
out? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, I don’t know when
we can say it, because much of this was based on very, very sensitive accesses and techniques. Obviously it would be much more intellectually
satisfying to people if we could lay all that evidence out, but in doing so, we compromise
capabilities that we’ve literally invested billions of dollars in. So I’m not in a position to describe that. That would be completely inappropriate I don’t
know when we’ll be able to lay it all out. I will just say that for me, the evidence
was overwhelming, and that’s why the intelligence community assessment had such high confidence
levels with the team that we put together. There are two dozen or so expert analysts
from the three agencies and my office who were involved in this, all of whom came with
lots of experience and understanding of Russia, and they were unanimous in their view on what
had transpired. Now, when all that will be revealed, I don’t
know, but I hope it’s sometime away, because we are still depending on those techniques
and accesses for information, for intelligence. JIM GILMORE – And this strong evidence to
you proved Putin, the high levels of the Kremlin, Putin included, were involved, that they were
attempting to change results or manipulate the elections. The issue of getting into the Trump campaign
and the collusion or connections or whatever it may be, how far do you go? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, first of all, yes, absolutely
no doubt about it. And that’s what occasioned the statement
that Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and I issued on the 7th of October, which
unfortunately got overcome by the simultaneous revelation of the Access Hollywood audiotape. And that, of course, overshadowed what we
intended to be a message to the electorate on the 7th of October, a month before the
election. So you know, again, I [have a] very high confidence
level in that. JIM GILMORE – A couple things to clean up
about this area. The 21 states, or whatever it is, that the
Russians got into their— JAMES CLAPPER – Reconnoitered is my term. JIM GILMORE – Reconnoitered, OK. Were some of those states some of these swing
states that we talk about, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania? JAMES CLAPPER – I don’t remember the exact
list of those states. Again, an important thing here is, though,
we did not see any evidence of doing anything other than exploring. JIM GILMORE – Did the federal government have
the ability to—and we’ll talk to [then-Secretary of Homeland Security] Jeh Johnson about this
tomorrow, about the warning of the states, and the states not wanting to allow the federal
government within the systems, because it’s states’ rights. But did the federal government have an ability
to, if there was an attack of some sort, to be involved, or was the wall there between
states’ rights? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, there’s a—for me,
quite surprising—As Jeh relayed, the reactions that he was getting from many state officials,
when he attempted to engage with them, and all DHS was attempting to do was to convey
best practices: How can we help you with your cybersecurity and to improve it? In fact, coincident with our intelligence
community assessment, the DHS and the FBI co-authored a rather extensive paper on best
practices to be followed, which we distributed to all members of Congress and state election
officials. And again, it was advisory in nature. When the proposal came up to add our voting
apparatus as a part of our critical infrastructure, again, great pushback from many state officials. You’ve got to understand the atmosphere here,
and the environment, very difficult to get the bipartisan buy-in which the White House
sought, and I think rightfully so, to get a bipartisan statement from the Congress and
the White House alerting not only state election officials, but the electorate at large. We had great difficulty doing that because
of the politics involved in all this. JIM GILMORE – By Oct. 7, which we just talked
a little bit about—before that, the warning of the president to Putin in China about “We
understand what you’re doing, and cut it out.” JAMES CLAPPER – And knock it off. JIM GILMORE – Was that specific to their push
to get involved in the state electoral system? JAMES CLAPPER – No, I think it was in general. Again, I don’t remember the exact timing. I guess I should memorize this chronology. I don’t remember the exact timing of that
conversation, but it wasn’t occasioned by any one thing. I think it was the realization of the multidimensional
nature of what the Russians were doing. JIM GILMORE – So did you guys advise the president
before going there what would be talked about? JAMES CLAPPER – He was thoroughly briefed
up on this. And we had been doing PDB [President’s Daily
Brief] articles on this throughout, starting in 2015, about this activity as it unfolded
and as we were able to understand it. JIM GILMORE – So how would you define what
he told Putin at that meeting? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, I wasn’t there. I’m told that he made it pretty clear that
we were onto what they were doing and to stop it. JIM GILMORE – And by what he was doing, what
did that mean? JAMES CLAPPER – By what the Russians were
doing to interfere in our election. JIM GILMORE – Now August, Trump is predicting—he’s
out on the [campaign trail], state by state, going to these rallies, and one of the points
that he’s making at this time is that there’s a chance that the election will be rigged,
that the election will be stolen from him. How did that make it more complicated for
the White House to deal with the issue? JAMES CLAPPER – It made it a lot more complicated. I think there was—and we had many hours
of discussion about what to do here. There really isn’t a rulebook for this, not
much precedent, again, for the magnitude of this interference. One of the debates was, if we do this, are
we amplifying what the Russians were doing even more if we make a big thing of it? I think, given the charged political atmosphere,
there was concern that the White House, and specifically the president, would be seen
as putting his hand on the scale in favor of Secretary Clinton over Trump. And of course, the rhetoric about the election
being rigged, calling that shot before the election, amplified that. JIM GILMORE – So by late September, the way
it’s been reported, the White House had decided that retaliation against the Russians
was put off until after the election. JAMES CLAPPER – I don’t remember if we made
a conscious decision about when to do something. I can’t say that. We had a lot of, obviously, a lot of discussion
about taking the action we ultimately took, which was PNG’ing 35 of the top intelligence
operatives of the Russians. Make no mistake, that’s what they were. They were not diplomats. And, of course, closing the two dachas and
sanctioning individual people, I don’t know that there was a conscious discussion so much
about whether to do it before or after the election, but just getting a consensus among
the interagency about what to do. JIM GILMORE – But why would it take until
late December to finally make the decision? JAMES CLAPPER – I outlined before, in my previous
response, why the White House was reluctant to publicly and overtly engage on this, because
of reinforcing what the Russians were doing, dignifying it, if you will, and the sense
of interfering in the election process or trying to influence it, where the commander
in chief was putting his hand on the scale in favor of Clinton. JIM GILMORE – So by Oct. 7— JAMES CLAPPER – I also will add, I think there
was perhaps—and this is implicit, not explicit—faith in the electorate, and in the end that the
electorate would do the right thing. JIM GILMORE – Meaning? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, make the right choice,
unaffected by an outside influence like Russia. JIM GILMORE – By Oct. 7, you are all feeling
that it’s necessary to make some statement, some public statement, to warn the public. Was that an agreed-upon decision? JAMES CLAPPER – We debated it, and for the
same reasons, there was reluctance on the part of some. I won’t go into who took what position. But in the end, everyone agreed, if not acquiesced,
I’ll put it that way, in the statement that Jeh and I issued jointly on the 7th of October. Jeh and I were I think of like mind here,
that if the election for whatever reason and whatever manner were to go south, and then
afterward it was learned that we knew about what the Russians were doing, or had some
pretty good insight into what they were doing, and we didn’t say anything about it before
the election, there would really be hell to pay. I think as time went on, and the magnitude
of what they were doing became clearer and clearer, people were more comfortable with
that, ergo the statement we made on the 7th of October. JIM GILMORE – When you look back at it now,
do you feel it was too late? Do you wish that you’d come out earlier? JAMES CLAPPER – You can do “could’ve/would’ve/should’ve”
all day long about what we should have or might have done. I personally feel that what we did was the
right thing given the circumstances at the time, and the highly charged environment that
existed in the run-up to the actual election. I’ve done a lot of investigations in my time,
and one thing I found is that, after the fact, it’s very difficult to go back and completely
recreate the contemporary environment that led people to make the decisions they made. JIM GILMORE – You’ve talked about it already,
so you don’t have to go in that much detail. But you guys were, needless to say, surprised
at the reaction, surprised at the fact that what everybody expected to be front-page news
became below-the-fold news, because of what else happened on that day. JAMES CLAPPER – I don’t know if I was surprised
as much as disappointed, given the drama, the daily drama that went on during the campaign
and has continued. I wouldn’t say surprised is the right way
to describe it. I was disappointed that it didn’t get more
focus. … JIM GILMORE – The meetings continue in December
to talk about sanctions and what could be done. Decisions are made. The president then, on the 29th from Hawaii,
makes the announcement. There’s a response, a view at this point,
by some people that it was too limited, that there wasn’t enough, that even the sanctions
weren’t anything like the sanctions after Ukraine. What’s sort of your overview about that
process and the end result? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, I never considered the
steps we took as the end. I think the anticipation was that this was
the first step, and that the next administration would do more, which didn’t exactly happen
that way. The Congress did it. But what we did was intended as a first step. In fact, one of the reasons why President
Obama tasked us to do our assessment, and to have it out before the end of his term,
was he wanted to be able to hand that over to not only the Congress, but to the next
administration, as a basis for further action. JIM GILMORE – The expectation is that Putin
is going to respond in kind. It doesn’t happen. What are you thinking about that? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, having watched the Soviets
and the Russians for much of my professional life, I, as others did, found that strange
that they didn’t retaliate. In fact, that’s one of the factors that
bore on the discussion: Well, how many Russian operatives should we PNG? We could have PNG’d a lot more. They had many more than 35 intelligence operatives
in this country. The Russians probably have more spies present
in our country than any other country, to include China. So that was a tempering factor, because we
were figuring that, for every one that we PNG’d, there would be a reciprocal action
on the part of the Russians. JIM GILMORE – So you limited the number? JAMES CLAPPER – That had a bearing on how
many people were PNG’d, yes. JIM GILMORE – What did you think was the cause
for it? JAMES CLAPPER – For what? JIM GILMORE – For their non-response? JAMES CLAPPER – I didn’t know. I thought it was very strange. Or whether they just were going to blow it
off and wait until the next administration. I honestly didn’t know, at the time, what
occasioned their non-reaction. JIM GILMORE – And when you heard about the
intelligence that we had about the conversation between Michael Flynn, General Flynn, and
[Russian Ambassador Sergey] Kislyak, what did you take from that? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, it seemed to serve as
an explanation for, without going into the source of the information or how I knew about
it, but it would appear that that would explain the non-reaction on the part of the Russians. JIM GILMORE – So the whole story of what happens
to Flynn, the fact that Flynn is not honest with the vice president and such, what’s your
take on that whole episode? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, I know Mike Flynn. We go back many years. I would first salute his long and distinguished
Army career. He was a great tactical intelligence officer. He had certain challenges at DIA [Defense
Intelligence Agency], and that’s why we took the action we took. It was in the best interests of the agency. I had concerns about whether he had the right
skill set to be a national security adviser, having worked for three of them myself directly
and others indirectly before that. I just wondered whether he had the right set
of experiences and skill sets to be successful in that position. … JIM GILMORE – This whole question of collusion
and such, the FBI is looking at it in July. But when are you aware that the Trump campaign
and Russians are meeting, that there are concerns about whether either there’s collusion or
people are being used? JAMES CLAPPER – We saw evidence of all kinds
of interactions between Trump camp members and the Russians. Now, that’s not to say we knew necessarily
the content of these discussions. We just knew there were a lot of meetings,
certainly weren’t aware of the since-revealed meeting in June in Trump Tower. We didn’t know that contemporaneously. But that’s what occasioned, as I’ve said
before, where my dashboard warning lights were on just because of that. When you have a valid foreign intelligence
target who is engaging with any American, any U.S. person, that raises a yellow flag,
and particularly when it’s an adversary, operatives of an adversary, Russia, what are
they trying to do? Co-opt? Gain influence? Gain access? What? So for that reason, all of us who were aware
of this had concerns. JIM GILMORE – Especially because the people
that were being contacted were not what you would call savvy intelligence operatives. JAMES CLAPPER – That was part of it. You know, was there naïveté involved here? What? We just—we weren’t sure. And I, for my part at least, had not seen
any direct evidence of political collusion between the campaign and the Russians. May have been there, but I, for my part, did
not see it. JIM GILMORE – … The June 6, 2016, meeting,
though, with Don [Trump] Jr. and [Jared] Kushner and [Paul] Manafort, with a Kremlin-connected
lawyer and another Russian lobbyist, when the details about that did come out, what
were the things about that meeting—the willingness of Donald Trump Jr., when he got the message
that the Russian government was interested in helping his father, was interested in providing
information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton, and his basic attitude was, “Bring
it on”? What red flags went up for you when you saw
that? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, not just for me but
for many other intelligence people. You wonder, what are the Russians doing here? Is this a soft approach just to discern, is
there interest in further dialogue? That’s why I don’t think the Russians
were real careful about trying to mask it. Certainly they could and have claimed plausible
deniability that there was any connection with the Russian government, which I’m very
skeptical about. So all those kind of yellow flags go up when
you see an engagement like this. JIM GILMORE – So if it was sort of a soft
attempt, if hard attempts followed, that’s when the FSB [Federal Security Service of
the Russian Federation, formerly the KGB] folks would be more careful. JAMES CLAPPER – I think John Brennan did a
good job of laying that out. What the potential here is, where people are
co-opted, maybe initially unwittingly, they don’t know they’re being caught up in the
net, so to speak. And this is typical Soviet Russian tradecraft. JIM GILMORE – The Jan. 6 meeting, where and
Brennan and Comey go up to brief— JAMES CLAPPER – And [NSA Director] Adm. Mike
Rogers. JIM GILMORE – And Rogers went up to brief
Trump. Just describe that. The way it’s been defined is you guys offered
a pretty compelling case. JAMES CLAPPER – I have to say here that when
I was doing my tussling on the Hill, that White House has got executive privilege concerns,
so I have to be a little circumspect about it. But I will say that the then-president-elect
was affable, courteous even, even complimentary of the presentation. We were there maybe 90 minutes or so. And you know, he paid attention, and he and
his team asked some pretty good questions. There was no pushback. And I think the reason was that the evidence
that we laid out at the highly classified level was pretty compelling. It would have been very hard to have pushback. So we didn’t hear anything about the 400-pound
guy in his bed in New Jersey during that meeting. JIM GILMORE – But on the Jan. 11 press conference
that Trump gives soon after, he reluctantly admits that there was a Russian role. But it was reluctant, when you heard him. JAMES CLAPPER – Well, it was reluctant. Then again, more recently, when he was in
Poland, he cast further doubt about it, saying, “Yeah, it could have been the Russians;
it could have been others as well.” Of course his news conference on Jan. 11,
in which he likened the intelligence community to Nazis, which I thought was completely inappropriate,
and that’s what occasioned my calling him about that, about that reference. JIM GILMORE – And you called him up— JAMES CLAPPER – I thought I had to do that,
just in the interest of defending the intelligence community and then the great men and women
in it. JIM GILMORE – So what do you say? And what’s his response? JAMES CLAPPER – What I tried to do was appeal
to his higher instincts and to impart to him that we’re not Nazis, and that he’s inheriting
a national treasure in the form of the U.S. intelligence community whose institutional
instincts are to serve the president as commander in chief, and to make the president, as commander
in chief, as successful as possible, and to keep him as well informed as possible. And I hope he would consider that. I was actually hopeful that, when I heard
that the first place he was going to visit after his inauguration was the CIA, and I
thought, well, perhaps we’re going to make up with the intelligence community, which
proved not to be the case. JIM GILMORE – But why? I mean, what was the evidence? JAMES CLAPPER – He was all right for about
two minutes into his remarks and then used the backdrop of the hallowed wall in the lobby
of the old headquarters building [OHB, Original Headquarters Building] in CIA, which has now,
I think, 126 stars of CIA officers who paid the ultimate price for this country, and used
that as sort of a publicity backdrop to rail about the size of the crowd in the Mall or
his war with the media. I just thought [that] was completely inappropriate. JIM GILMORE – And it’s been reported that
after this conversation that you had with him, trying to get him to understand the importance
of the intelligence services, one thing that he was fixated on, to some extent, was that
you guys had also briefed about the Steele dossier when you were up at Trump Tower, [and]
that he wanted you to come out publicly and distance him from that dossier. What did that say to you? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, he did bring that up
when I called him, and [he] wanted me to put out a statement rebutting it, which I couldn’t
do. I couldn’t affirm it or deny it. The point was, in briefing him about it, was
to inform him of its existence. We felt a duty to warn, if you will, just
so that he knew that it was out there. A lot of people in the media already had it;
at least two members of Congress had it. I learned about it rather belatedly. It was not long after we began to work on
the intelligence community assessment is when I first learned of it. So he did bring that up. I couldn’t do that. JIM GILMORE – Surprised that he would bring
that up? JAMES CLAPPER – No. JIM GILMORE – Because? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, I think it was very
much on his mind, and it’s, without commenting one way or the other on its veracity, it’s
not very complimentary. So I think he was quite concerned about this,
you know, the impact on his image. JIM GILMORE – Looking back at all of this,
at the whole election, and what the Russians did and why they did it, and going back to
Putin and the man that you know very well, what do you think he thinks he achieved here? JAMES CLAPPER – Well, he’s got to be pretty
happy. The Russians—he personally, and the Russians
collectively, and his leadership group, because in my view, they way exceeded expectations
about particularly their first objective, which was to sow discord and discontent in
this country. They succeeded imminently. And that’s still going on. And by the way, the Russians aren’t going
to stop. If anything, their experience in our 2016
election is going to embolden them to interfere in the future, maybe more aggressively. JIM GILMORE – …Do you see a connection,
a correlation between his views on what happened there [in the 2011-2012 demonstrations against
Putin] and then what the Russians did in our elections? JAMES CLAPPER – I think fundamentally there
is an aversion to our whole system, an aversion to democracy. He doesn’t believe in it and views it as
threatening to him, personally. That is what it all boils down to in Russia. Yeah, he’s the president of Russia. He’s also Putin, Inc. He’s made billions, and his oligarchs, by
preserving and profiting from a system that he sits atop of. I just think that’s almost in his genes,
in the Russian genes, to do what they did, and they’ll continue to do it. JIM GILMORE – This is the man that, back in
2000, we had great hope for, after Yeltsin, that he would follow through and sort of bring
Russia into the fold of Europe and into the fold of the West. What happened? JAMES CLAPPER – Whether it’s justified or
not, I think he felt the West, specifically the U.S., gloated about the fall of, the demise
of the Soviet Union. I think the expansion of NATO he found very,
very threatening and very aggressive. So I think that those were the proximate seeds
of his deep resentment of the West, the Western alliance, led by the United States. And that’s why they also will continue to
try to drive wedges within Europe and between Europe and the United States.

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