WSJ Asks Why We Should Keep Listening To James Clapper's "Disinformation Campaign"

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper - a central figure in the "Russiagate" spy scandal, has earned quite the reputation for various misstatements, lies and even perjury.

Clapper appeared before the Senate to discuss surveillance programs in the midst of a controversy over warrantless surveillance of the American public. He was asked directly, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

There was no ambiguity or confusion and Clapper responded, “No, sir. … Not wittingly.” That was a lie and Clapper knew it when he said it. -John Turley

Since the 2016 election, Clapper has landed a job as a paid CNN commentator while peddling a new book, Facts and Fears - all while trying to shift the narrative on the FBI spying on the Trump campaign and pushing unfounded Russian conspiracy theories.

To that end, the Wall Street Journal's Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. asks: Why does a former intelligence chief make claims he can’t back up?

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Clapper Disinformation Campaign

James Clapper, President Obama’s director of national intelligence, gained a reputation among liberals as a liar for covering up the existence of secret data-collection programs.

Since becoming a private citizen, he has claimed that President Trump is a Russian “asset” and that Vladimir Putin is his “case officer,” then when pressed said he was speaking “figuratively.”

His latest assertion, in a book and interviews, that Mr. Putin elected Mr. Trump is based on non-reasoning that effectively puts defenders of U.S. democracy in a position of having to prove a negative. “It just exceeds logic and credulity that they didn’t affect the election,” he told PBS.

Mr. Clapper not only exaggerates Russia’s efforts, he crucially overlooks the fact that it’s the net effect that matters. Allegations and insinuations of Russian meddling clearly cost Mr. Trump some sizeable number of votes. Hillary Clinton made good use of this mallet, as would be clearer now if she had also made good use of her other assets to contest those states where the election would actually be decided.

Mr. Clapper misleads you (and possibly himself) by appealing to the hindsight fallacy: Because Mr. Trump’s victory was unexpected, Russia must have caused it. But why does he want you to believe that he believes what he can’t possibly know?

There’s been much talk about origins. Let’s understand how all this really began. James Comey knew it was unrealistic that Mrs. Clinton would be prosecuted for email mishandling but also knew it was the Obama Justice Department’s decision to make, own and defend. Why did he insert himself?

The first answer is that he expected Mrs. Clinton to win—and likely believed it was necessary that she win. Secondly he had a pretext for violating the normal and proper protocol for criminal investigations. He did so by turning it into a counterintelligence matter, seizing on a Democratic email supposedly in Russian hands that dubiously referred to a compromising conversation of Attorney General Loretta Lynch regarding the Hillary investigation.

Put aside whether this information really necessitated his intervention. (It didn’t. This is the great non sequitur of the Comey story.) Now adopted, Russia became the rationale for actions that should trouble Americans simply on account of their foolishness.

Think about it: The FBI’s original intervention in the Hillary matter was premised on apparent false information from the Russians. Its actions against the Trump campaign flowed from an implausible, unsupported document attributed to Russian sources and paid for by Mr. Trump’s political opponents.

In surveilling Carter Page, the FBI had every reason to know it was surveilling an inconsequential non-spy, and did so based on a warrant that falsely characterized a Yahoo news article. Its suspicions of George Papadopoulos were based on drunken gossip about Hillary’s emails when the whole world was gossiping about Hillary’s emails.

The FBI’s most consequential intervention of all, its last-minute reopening of the Clinton investigation, arose from “new” evidence that turned out to be a nothingburger.

There is a term for how all this looks in retrospect: colossally stupid. Democrats now have a strong if unprovable case that Mr. Comey changed the election outcome. Mr. Trump has a strong case his presidency has been hobbled by unwarranted accusations. Americans harbor new and serious doubts about the integrity of the FBI.

As an extra kick in the head, its partners in so much idiocy, and perhaps the real fomenters of it, in the Obama intelligence agencies have so far gotten a pass.

If a private informant was enlisted to feel out the Russian connections of a couple of Trump nonentities, this was at least a sensitive and discreet approach to a legitimate question when so many FBI actions were neither.

It was after the election, with the outpouring of criminal leaks and planted disinformation (see Clapper), that a Rubicon was crossed. Consider just one anomaly: Any “intelligence community” worth the name would get to the bottom of foreigner Christopher Steele’s singular intervention in a U.S. presidential election, based as it was on the anonymous whisperings of Russian intelligence officials. Not ours. Our intelligence community is highly motivated not to know these answers because any finding that discredited the Steele dossier would also discredit the FBI’s actions in the 2016 campaign.

It practically goes without saying that all involved now have a stake in keeping the focus on the louche Mr. Trump and threatening him with investigations no matter how far afield from Russia collusion.

You can be a nonfan of Mr. Trump; you can believe he’s peddling a conspiracy theory about FBI and CIA actions during the campaign. But every president has a duty to fight to protect himself and his power. And notice that his conspiracy theory is but the mirror image of the conspiracy theory that his political, institutional, and media enemies have been prosecuting against him since Election Day 2016.

Appeared in the May 30, 2018, print edition.