(CNSNews.com) - Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN's John Berman on Thursday he doesn't remember why he requested the unmasking of a name that turned out to be that of incoming National Security Director Michael Flynn.
According to a list released on Wednesday, Clapper made three such requests to the National Security Agency in the waning days of the Obama administration: December 2 and 28, 2016; and Jan. 7, 2017.
Clapper told CNN, "you almost have to have the actual name" to understand the "context" and "importance" of the foreign intelligence reports that refer to American citizens only as "U.S. Person 1," for example.
Asked if he knew the U.S. person he wanted to unmask in the December 2016/January 2017 time frame would be Flynn, said, "No, I did not. Now, it's possible -- I mean, this is three-and-a-half years ago. So I don't remember the specific reports in question. But it's possible that the context may have suggested that, but I don't know.
“And again, if I'd known that, I probably wouldn't -- there wouldn't have been a need to ask. But no, you don't know that in advance."
Clapper also said he didn't remember what his specific concern was, regarding those three particular requests to unmask:
"No. I don't. I don't recall what prompted a request that was made on my behalf for unmasking. I don't remember the specifics or what it was in the sigint (signals intelligence) report that was suggestive enough that I was concerned and felt that I should know who was actually involved."
Clapper said at the time, "there was general concern" about "numerous engagements by representatives of the Trump campaign with Russians."
"So that was of concern, general concern anyway. And so that, I think, is what attracted the attention of me and other then-serving national security officials."
Clapper said engagements with the Russians raise concerns that there might be "recruiting going on," or that the Russians might be looking for "leverage."
"And it wasn't just Mike Flynn. It was others. So what exactly is going on with this engagement with our primary adversary, the Russians. And so that's, I think, why the warning lights on everyone's dashboard was on. It wasn't a specific concern about Mike Flynn. Just in general, why all the dialog and engagement with Russians," Clapper said.
Clapper told Berman that he did not see any direct evidence of "collusion" between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But then he hedged: "Of course, collusion is not a formally defined term, certainly in a legal sense. But if you read the intelligence community assessment, particularly the highly classified version and as well as the unclassified version, you won't find the 'C' word anywhere in that report."
Clapper said he doesn't know how many unmasking requests he made in the six-and-a-half years he served as DNI, but he called it a "routine thing."
“I would say perhaps once or twice a week, perhaps. But it would vary. Not every day. But fairly frequently. It's a routine thing. It's appropriate and legitimate. When you have a valid foreign intelligence target engaging with a U.S. Person, is it, for example, an insider, someone in the government engaging with that foreign adversary? So it's important from the standpoint of potential jeopardy of national security that you understand what's going on.”
Asked if he leaked Flynn's name to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, which would be a crime, Clapper denied it: "I did not," he said.