Politics & Government

After leak accusations, Clapper attempts to smooth things over with Trump

Intelligence officials confident Russians behind election attacks

Top U.S. intelligence officials testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing on cybersecurity threats, including Russia's hacking of the U.S. presidential election. An unclassified report will be released to the public next week
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Top U.S. intelligence officials testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing on cybersecurity threats, including Russia's hacking of the U.S. presidential election. An unclassified report will be released to the public next week

James Clapper, the outgoing director of national intelligence, spoke with Donald Trump Wednesday night to express concern about published reports that Russia might possess damaging information on him and distance the intelligence community from those reports — just hours after Trump publicly compared the leaks to “Nazi Germany” and accused intelligence officials of taking “one last shot at me.”

“I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security,” Clapper wrote in a statement after his conversation with Trump. “I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC.”

Trump’s relationship with the intelligence community was strained significantly after CNN reported Tuesday that intelligence officials had presented information to Trump that Russia might have gathered compromising personal and financial information on the president-elect, and BuzzFeed published a 35-page dossier of the unverified allegations in question online.

Trump’s transition team had quickly denounced the report, with spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway saying that Trump was “not aware” of being briefed, and Trump himself tweeting Tuesday night that the reports were “fake news — a total political witch hunt.” In condemning the reports, Trump also turned his fire on intelligence officials, who “should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public,” he tweeted Wednesday. “One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

In a press conference later Wednesday, Trump continued, saying “a thing like that should have never been written, it should never have been had, and it certainly should never have been released.”

The comparison to “Nazi Germany” in particular appeared to stoke the ire of several former intelligence officials, according to the Daily Beast, some of whom suggested the comments set up unprecedented conflict between the incoming commander-in-chief and the nation’s spies.

John Rizzo, the CIA’s former top lawyer, told The Daily Beast that he “can’t remember it ever being this bad,” despite serving under seven presidents.

In his conversation with Trump, Clapper sought to distance the intelligence community from the published leaks, which he described as a “private security company document” that had not been evaluated by intelligence officials.

“Part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security,” he wrote.

Clapper also wrote that the president-elect “again affirmed his appreciation for all the men and women serving in the Intelligence Community, and I assured him that the IC stands ready to serve his administration and the American people.”

Trump tweeted Thursday morning that Clapper had called to “denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated,” though Clapper’s statement specified that the intelligence community “has not made any judgement” on the veracity of the allegations.

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