Transcript for Former director of national intelligence James Clapper on distrust of intel agencies
The director of national intelligence, James clapper, oversaw 16 agencies including the CIA, nasa and the FBI so he's the perfect guy to help make some sense out of the White House war on the intelligence community. Please welcome, author of the new book "Facts and fears" James clapper. So the new guy seems to have been at war with the intelligence community since he's taken office. Now, whether he's trying to undermine the Russia investigation or threatening to fire Robert Mueller or demanding investigations into, you know, whether somebody has been in his group investigating, I mean, is this having like a bad effect on the country? Well, yeah, it doesn't help in my view. I think we got off to a bad start in January of '17 when we went up to trump tower on my last ever sojourn to trump tower and briefed him on the intelligence community assessment about the Russian interference. I think his reaction then and it's still the same today is he just can't accept anything that would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election and certainly the Russian meddling had that impact. And so the intelligence community is a source of that. We characterize this as Nazis for having leaked the dossier which we didn't do. But anyway -- which I called him about just to protect -- I felt I had to say something for the men and women that toil in the trenches of intelligence every day trying to make this country safe. And so that has continued to this day, and I think we're in the informant business. Well, the point here is -- Let me get to my question -- oh. Are the Russians, not spying on the campaign but what are the Russians doing and in a sense, unfortunately, what they were trying to do is protect our political system and protect the campaign. But the FBI started to look into trump's ties to Russia in the summer of 2016. Trump tweeted that this spring -- this spying rather. He claims it's spying. Other people say it's a whistleblower or informant. He says it's spying, is bigger than watergate. So I ask you, was the FBI spying on trump's campaign? No, they were not. They were spying on -- a term I don't particularly like -- on what the Russians were doing, trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence which is what they do. So why didn't he like that? He should be happy. He should be. Russia -- and this is one of the reasons I wrote my book, was the threat that Russia poses because they are bent on undermining our system and that's what they did and had a lot of success during the course of the election. I don't like the term spy either. I was with the department of justice as an a usa and I think surveil is perhaps the more important word. What about this notion that there was a C.I., a confidential informant, embedded in the campaign? Is that true? As we've seen, unfortunately, the identity of this informant is now out in the media, and this is a fairly benign tool available to the FBI given all the other capabilities available to them. And what has been described that he did was pretty mild. The FBI particularly draws on, uses informant all the time for law enforcement purposes. And it's legal. A very valuable source of information. The FBI has very strict rules and protocols on their usage, and what's bad about this is revelations about this, about this individual, so other informants for the FBI who provide valuable information that keeps this nation safe and secure are beginning to wonder, well, is my identity going to be protected and what about potential informants who might want to help with the FBI and what's the impact on them. It's pretty chilling. You know, the president tweeted about you, quote, clapper is a lying machine who now works for fake news. So, a lot of people I know -- first of all, what was your reaction to that when you first saw that? Well, the president's calling me a lying machine. Well, okay. What that stems from is an exchange I had with senator wyden five years ago in March of 2013 about surveillance program and he was asking me about one and I was thinking about another. So I made a mistake. I didn't lie. That's what occasioned -- What you're referencing though is that when you said -- when you're talking about James Snowden blowing the whistle on the NSA illegally spying and in 2013 when you were asked about it you said no, so that is a lie and I think -- No, it isn't a lie. I'm sorry. It isn't a lie. I was thinking about something else, another program. I can get into the technical details. He was asking about the metadata program and the way he asked about it, I didn't break code. I was thinking of another program that we had just gotten renewed, section 702 of the foreign intelligence surveillance act. By the way, had I been on the same page with him and understood what he was asking me, I would have still been in a bad place because at the time that program was classified. And just on the face of it, trotting up the hill testifying for 20 or 25 years, dozens of hearings, hundreds of questions and always tried to answer them straight. But gee, just for a change of pace, I think I'll lie on this one question and by the way do it on live television in front of one of my oversight committees. Really? No. So I made a mistake but I didn't lie. He lies an average of nine times a day now, according to the news. I think there's a distrust though. It's fascinating right now, there's such a distrust between the American public and the intelligence agencies and there's a lot of leaking. So I know people in my own life who have this distrust which is unique to this moment in time. Is there any ownership to be taken from the intelligence agencies with this right now? Well, the lesson -- the major takeaway from Edward Snowden and I have a whole chapter in my book about that particularly from the government's point of view and the profound damage he has done. If you're paying taxes in this country today and for some years you're going to be paying to repair the damage that he did to our foreign intelligence capabilities. If what he had exposed was only about so-called domestic surveillance, I can understand it but he exposed a lot more. Just the nature of intelligence work which is secret, it has to be, particularly to protect sources and methods, that automatically, my definition, raises suspicions in the minds of a lot of people. I understand that. One of the lessons I learned and which I try to work at after Snowden was we need to be more transparent to try to explain what we do, why we do it and importantly, all the oversight mechanisms that exist to make sure that what we do is legal, ethical and moral. But inherently, intelligence is not like the department of agriculture or the department of commerce which is open, transparent, no secrets. Well, inherently, our work is. That places a huge burden on our intelligence oversight committees, one of which right now is kind of broken, to perform that oversight on behalf of everyone in this room and on behalf of all American citizens to ensure that we are doing the right thing. I have a question for you real quickly. We live kind of in a dangerous time where depending on which side of an issue you think of people as either whistleblowers or leakers. Exactly. So when we talk about the Steele dossier for example, which was an unsubstantiated document with salacious claims about trump, James Comey briefed trump on the dossier and it got out to the media. You said you have not leaked that. Do you have theories on this and is that okay because where we fall we might see it as good because it was a whistleblower or bad because it was a leak? First of all, dossier is not classified as an intelligence document, so there's nothing secret about it. Two points I need to make. One, we did not use it as a source for our intelligence community assessment. We felt, I felt in the no good deed goes unpunished department that the president-elect at least needed to know it was out there and that was the whole point of the briefing. At one point Jim and I were both going to do it -- Comey. Comey. And at the last minute he said I think I would be better doing it alone. Of course I was fine with that. So he stayed after the broader briefing to tell him that. So the point was to warn him and we didn't draw on it for our official assessment because we couldn't validate the second, third order assets or collection sources, informants, that were used in the dossier. So the dossier is not necessarily a leak? No. I mean -- It's not classified. It's not classified. If I hand you a newspaper, am I leaking a newspaper to you? Not in my mind. Not in my mind either. Well, I don't know how I feel about -- no. James clapper is sticking around and we'll be right back. Right back.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.