Following revelations within a declassified congressional report last week that former intel chief James Clapper leaked information related to the infamous Steele dossier to CNN and other journalists, the Washington Post fact checker on Thursday claimed that the findings against Clapper were “unsupported” by the evidence. To the contrary, the evidence provided in both the full House Intelligence Committee report and the committee Democrats’ response to it makes clear that Clapper, despite initially denying he talked to any journalists regarding the dossier, did admit to leaking information.
House Democrats acknowledge in their own report that Clapper spoke with CNN while Clapper was still officially serving in the U.S. government as director of national intelligence.
“Evaluated in context, Clapper denied leaking classified information, while acknowledging that, as DNI, he engaged in legitimate discussion of unclassified, non-intelligence information with Tapper,” committee Democrats wrote in a report that was released the same day as the full committee’s declassified report on Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections. Some former officials maintain that because the dossier was jointly and secretly funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and was therefore unclassified, discussing its contents — or high-level government conversations about them — with the media somehow did not constitute leaking.
The full intelligence committee made a similar finding about the substance of Clapper’s testimony.
“Clapper subsequently acknowledged discussing the ‘dossier with CNN journalist Jake Tapper,’ and admitted that he might have spoken with other journalists about the same topic,” the House report noted. “Clapper’s discussion with Tapper took place in early January 2017, around the time IC leaders briefed President Obama and President-elect Trump, on ‘the Christopher Steele information,’ a two-page summary of which was ‘enclosed in’ the highly-classified version of the ICA,” or intelligence community assessment.
According to the Washington Post, however, Clapper didn’t leak anything to CNN in January of 2017. In order to support this assertion, the newspaper dismisses all of the documentary evidence in favor of…a statement to the paper from Clapper that he didn’t leak anything until May of 2017:
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.”
In light of Clapper’s statement that the first time he ever spoke to Tapper was in May 2017, this whole scenario falls apart. We would have preferred an on-the-record confirmation from CNN, but we understand the reluctance of news organizations to discuss source relationships.
But even if one does not think Clapper is a credible source because of his false testimony to Congress, a close reading of the House majority report and the minority document shows that Clapper never said he spoke to Tapper in January.
Again, this assertion flies in the face of not only the full committee’s findings, but also the findings of House Democrats, who wrote that Clapper did indeed communicate with CNN while he was still a top intel chief on the federal payroll.
The Washington Post also took issue with the full intelligence committee report’s finding, undisputed by the Democrats’ own report, that Clapper leaked information in early January of 2017 while he was still a government official. The timeline is important because those briefings — one for President Barack Obama on January 5 and one for President-elect Donald Trump on January 6 — were the “news hook” used by CNN to first report the existence of a dossier allegations against Trump passed around by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials. The full dossier was published by BuzzFeed minutes after CNN’s January 10 report revealing the dossier briefing, which served as a de facto validation of a dossier that had not been independently verified by either U.S. government officials or media companies which had been privately scrutinizing it for weeks.
A transcript of the congressional intelligence committee’s interview of Clapper makes clear that his eventual answers about his communications with journalists revolved around those briefings on January 5 and January 6:
HOUSE INTEL: Did you confirm or corroborate the contents of the dossier with CNN journalist Jake Tapper?
MR. 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.
The Washington Post claimed that “nowhere does Clapper place the date of speaking to Tapper as early January,” but this claim makes no sense given that Clapper himself said–in response to a specific question about his interaction with CNN–that it was “pretty close to when we briefed it[.]”
The dossier was briefed to Obama on January 5 and to Trump January 6, a time frame that people with access to a calendar might characterize as “early January.” The rest of Clapper’s answer to that particular question also makes clear that the time of the discussion was before the whole world knew the contents of the dossier. The document had been circulating among media organizations and various congressional offices for weeks if not months, but had not yet been published or broadcast by any news outlets.
Recall that according to former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey, the briefings of Obama and Trump were necessary because media organizations, including CNN, were in possession of the dossier and they felt Obama and Trump therefore needed to be made aware of its contents before they were made public. If the dossier had already been made public, then there would have been no need for Comey and Clapper to brief Trump on a document he would have already read about in the news. The time frame was clearly “early January” — around the briefings on January 5 and 6, but before the January 10 reports from CNN and BuzzFeed about the dossier.
“It’s obvious the Post not only didn’t read the full committee report, it didn’t read the transcript of Mr. Clapper’s answers, or the admission by House Democrats in their own report that Clapper talked to Tapper while in office,” a source familiar with Clapper’s testimony told The Federalist.
The weight of the public evidence makes clear that the Washington Post’s attempt to exonerate Clapper appears to be more of an effort at wish-casting than fact-checking. Recall that this is the same James Clapper who previously lied to Congress about whether the U.S. government was electronically spying on millions of Americans. Clapper later claimed that the question posed to him by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) — “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” — was a gotcha question akin to, “When did you stop beating your wife?”
At the end of its “fact check,” the Washington Post noted that it had graciously chosen not to award any Pinocchios — its standard measure of honesty provided at the end of its fact check pieces — “at the moment.” Instead, the paper urged Congress to “update and correct its report in light of this new information.”
It might be a good idea for the Washington Post to examine all the publicly available evidence and take its own advice.