Time now for another adventure starring America’s wackiest and most perjury-prone spook: James Clapper. Back in March, Clapper, President Obama’s former director of national intelligence, categorically denied government surveillance was ever ordered on Donald Trump or anyone involved in the Trump campaign. When it was revealed earlier this week that the FBI did, in fact, wiretap former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort after seeking a warrant from the FISA court, it seemed Clapper had lied — or at least seriously fudged the truth.
Don Lemon asked Clapper last night on CNN whether he’d known about the FISA warrant against Manafort at the time it was issued. Clapper’s response: “I did not.”
So we’re down a new and unexpected rabbit hole now, one that could have a thudding rock bottom for the Obama Administration. Larry O’Connor over at Mediaite lays out the possibilities of Clapper’s latest denial: either CNN’s reporting about the wiretap on Manafort is wrong, Clapper is lying, Clapper is suffering from endemic memory loss, or the FBI went rogue and conducted surveillance against Manafort without Clapper’s approval. All of those are scandalous, but which one is true?
The first of the outcomes, that CNN is wrong, is possible. The Most Trusted Name in News™ has issued retractions in the past, most notoriously on its false story tying Anthony Scaramucci to Russia, which resulted in the firing of three journalists. But that is precisely the reason I’m tempted to rule out this possibility. Having been burned before, was CNN really going to make the same mistake on a reveal of this significance? The Manafort story surely went through dense layers of editorial, fact-checkers, lawyers — for all of CNN’s faults, they do have experience with this sort of thing.
Likewise, the idea that Clapper suffers from chronic memory loss is laughable, as I’m sure O’Connor is aware. Clapper oversaw the intelligence community for six years and has never seemed anything other than lucid and cogent in interviews. That earns him the benefit of the doubt as far as his mental fitness goes.
So we’re left with two possibilities: either the FBI hid their investigation into the Trump campaign from Clapper for no discernible reason whatsoever or Clapper lied. Given that Clapper has spread falsehoods before, under oath, in front of the United States Congress, Occam’s Razor points the way it does. And if that is the case, this was no white lie. The issues at stake here are enormous: presidential honesty, executive power, the capacity of an administration to use the state against its political opponents, Russian infiltration.
Clapper’s comments, combined with today’s revelation that Samantha Power was ordering up unmaskings like they were hotcakes, push us into yet another a new reality. It’s time for an investigation into the Obama Administration’s investigation into the Russia matter, with tough questions asked of Clapper, Power, James Comey and the former president himself. It’s a felony to leak information about a FISA warrant and we already know crimes have been committed. I personally detest the idea of Inspector Javert special counsels, but if we’re going to have Robert Mueller poking around, let’s have another, and make sure the picture that we get is ultimately complete.
The purpose wouldn’t be political humiliation but ensuring government officials adhere to the law even when they’re up against someone they view as a menace. Donald Trump and Paul Manafort deserve due process, too, even if you abhor what they stand for. As for James Clapper, he’s insulted the nation’s intelligence enough. The cable shows should stop booking him until he’s ready to give a full accounting of what happened.