It was James Clapper, then the nation’s top intelligence official, who insisted that President-elect Donald Trump receive a briefing on the Moscow prostitute tale contained in the Democratic Party-financed dossier.
The disclosure comes in FBI Director James B. Comey’s private memos released on Thursday. The Clapper angle adds another fact to the now-infamous one-on-one meeting between Mr. Comey and Mr. Trump on Jan. 6, 2017 at Trump Tower.
In his book, a “Higher Loyalty,” Mr. Comey presents the briefing decision as a collective one between himself, Mr. Clapper and other intelligence officials.
In a memo written immediately after leaving Mr. Trump, Mr. Comey wrote, “I said there was something that Clapper wanted me to speak to the PE [president elect] about alone.”
The briefing had far-reaching ramifications. Leaked to CNN, the session became fodder to legitimize the dossier as a credible news story since Mr. Comey warned the president the gossip about him and prostitutes in Moscow in 2013 came right from the Kremlin.
Today, Republicans charge that it was Mr. Clapper, then Director of National Intelligence, who leaked the story to CNN. He works for CNN as an on-air analyst and is one of the president’s most strident critics. He has likened Mr. Trump to an agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The final March 22 Russia report from the Republican majority on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said Mr. Clapper “provided inconsistent testimony to the committee about his contacts with the media, including CNN.”
Mr. Clapper said on CNN that he wasn’t the leaker and did not talk to reporters until he retired.
Republicans and the White House have faulted Mr. Comey for what they consider a lie of omission.
By January 2017, the FBI knew that the dossier was in fact a piece of opposition research paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hilary Clinton campaign. The money went from the investigative firm Fusion GPS to ex-British spy Christopher Steele, who hired a middleman to glean information from Kremlin officials.
Mr. Steele wrote 35 pages of memos from June 2016 to December 2016 and fed them to Fusion and to the FBI. He was “desperate” to destroy the Trump campaign, he told a Justice Department official whose wife worked for Fusion’s anti-Trump project.
But none of this was disclosed by Mr. Comey to the president-elect. He presented the storyline as mere information from Moscow that had not been proven.
Asked by ABC News on his book tour why he did not provide full disclosure, Mr. Comey said that was not his goal that day.
As Mr. Comey met with the president-elect for the first time, the FBI had become immersed in the dossier. The bureau greatly relied on it to conduct a year’s worth of court-approved surveillance on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page, who has not been charged.
Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and House Intelligence chairman, accuses the FBI of abusing the warrant process by failing to tell the judge the allegations on Mr. Page came from a man on the payroll of the other party.
In his book, Mr. Comey said he had an obligation to protect the president by telling him the Russians may possess dirt they could use against him. Mr. Trump denied the episode ever happened on his trip to stage the Miss Universe pageant, which he jointly owned with NBC.
Mr. Comey and his colleagues first briefed President Obama. It was Mr. Clapper who took the lead in explaining the issue to Mr. Obama.
“With just the briefest of sidelong glances at me, Clapper took a breath, then said, ‘We have decided that Director Comey will meet alone with the president-elect to brief him on this material following the completion of the full ICA briefing,’” Mr. Comey wrote in “A Higher Loyalty.”
Again, the Comey memos, obtained by the Associated Press, specifically said it was Mr. Clapper who wanted Mr. Trump briefed.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican, has suggested the entire Trump Tower episode was a setup to engineer a damaging leak to the media. He has asked Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz to investigate.
Mr. Comey’s thoughts as he prepared to visit Trump Tower:
“I long ago learned that people tend to assume that you act and think the way they would in a similar situation,” his memoir says. “They project their worldview onto you, even if you see the world very differently. There was a real chance that Donald Trump, politician and hardball deal-maker, would assume I was dangling the prostitute thing over him to jam him, to gain leverage. He might well assume I was pulling a J. Edgar Hoover, because that’s what Hoover would do in my shoes. An eyebrow raise didn’t quite do this situation justice; it was really going to suck.”
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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