Politics & Policy

Clapper May Have Lied to Congress About Steele Dossier Leak

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election” on Capitol Hill, May 8, 2017. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

James Clapper may have misled Congress regarding his contacts with the media during his tenure as the director of national intelligence, according to a report on Russian election meddling released by congressional Republicans Friday.

Clapper initially told the House Intelligence Committee, which produced the report, that he had no contact with the media regarding the infamous Steele dossier during his time serving in the Obama administration.

“Clapper flatly denied ‘discussing the dossier [compiled by Steele] or any other intelligence related to Russia hacking of the 2016 election with journalists,’” the report states.

Clapper later admitted that he had discussed the dossier with CNN’s Jake Tapper after lawmakers confronted him about that specific disclosure, and “admitted that he might have spoken with other journalists about the same topic,” according to the report. But he maintained that the discussion did not constitute a leak because a number of media outlets, including CNN, were already in possession of the dossier when he spoke with Tapper.

“Clapper’s discussion with Tapper took place in early January 2017,” the report continues, “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,” the intelligence community assessment that Russia had in fact meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Then-president elect Trump was briefed on the salacious and unverified contents of the Steele dossier, which was paid for by Hilary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, on January 6, 2017. Four days later, CNN used news of the briefing — leaked by two unnamed “national security officials” — to reveal the existence of the dossier.

CNN had the dossier in its possession but was waiting on a “news hook” to reveal its existence, according to one of the memos former FBI director James Comes wrote detailing his conversations with Trump. Buzzfeed published the entire dossier immediately after CNN reported that Trump had been briefed on its contents.

“The Committee assesses that leaks to CNN about the dossier were especially significant, since CNN’s report ‘that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to President Obama and Trump’ was the proximate cause of BuzzFeed News’ decision to publish the dossier for the first time just a few hours later,” the newly released report says. “Until that point, the dossier had been ‘circulating among elected official [sic], intelligence agents, and journalists,’ but remained unpublished. As the accompanying article explained, ‘[n]ow BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of government.”

House Democrats released their own report Friday to rebut the Republicans’ findings, in which they admit that Clapper did discuss the dossier with Tapper but emphasize that his role as director empowered him to speak to the media.

“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,” the minority wrote in its dissenting report.

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