Clapper: Even If We Get a Transcript of Ukraine Phone Call, Can We Be Sure It's Accurate?

By Susan Jones | September 24, 2019 | 6:11am EDT
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

( - Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN Monday night that getting a transcript of President Trump's July phone call with the new Ukraine president "may not be such a great thing."

"You know, I hate to suggest this, but it's crossed my mind that even if we got a transcript, well, can we be assured that's actually what was said? So getting a transcript may not be such a great thing, either."

President Trump has said he may consider releasing a transcript, although he and others say it might have a chilling effect on future conversations between a president and foreign leaders, if they're afraid to speak candidly.

In his interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, Clapper said it's important to learn the "actual content" of the whistleblower's complaint.

There's all the media hype about what it's about, but we don't actually know that. And I think that's very important to know the content of that because this was actually -- this was done, submitted by a mature, seasoned employee, not some junior person.

Moreover, the I.G. of the -- the inspector general of the intelligence community found it credible and urgent. This is an appointee of this administration, Senate confirmed and all that. So that to me attaches importance to the actual content of the complaint.

You know, I hate to suggest this, but it's crossed my mind that even if we got a transcript, well, can we be assured that's actually what was said? So getting a transcript may not be such a great thing, either.

Clapper said in the six-and-a-half years he served as President Obama's DNI, "I never thought I actually had the option to refuse to forward a valid, credible whistleblower complaint. And I also don't recall one being submitted that was characterized as my I.G., my inspector general, as urgent.

"So I'm sympathetic to Joe Maguire, the acting DNI, I think he's got caught up in the politics of this," Clapper said. "And it's true that the office of legal counsel in the DOJ is supposed to be the final arbiter about legal issues across the executive branch.

"But the point for me, the bigger point here, is the observation of wrongdoing. And this employee attempted to use the prescribed-by-the-Congress procedure for protecting classified information, potentially sensitive information, and also protect himself or herself. And I really worry about the employee because that person now is kind of hanging out there in limbo.

"So for me, I never had a case that was characterized as urgent by my inspector general, and I never interrupted or in any way delayed, in the interest of transparency, the processing of a whistleblower complaint that came up during my tenure."

Even if President Trump didn't say anything about withholding military aid in his phone call with the Ukrainian president, "It is certainly implied," Clapper opined.

"Even if he didn't, if there wasn't a direct connection here, it certainly is implied. And, you know, whether there was a direct discourse here where, you know, if you don't do something about investigating former Vice President Biden, you're not going to get the aid, I don't think it was -- I doubt it was that overt."

This prompted Cuomo to ask Clapper a very interesting question, in light of claims that the Obama intelligence community used foreigners to spy on Trump campaign volunteers:

"Have you ever heard of the U.S. Government asking another government to investigate its own citizens?" Cuomo asked Clapper.

"No. I don't know of a case. Certainly in my incumbencies in the intelligence business, I can't recall a case of that, Clapper replied."

Clapper said any concerns about what a government official was doing in another country should be examined "internally. You know, with our own investigatory apparatus, not ask another go investigate. On its face, it's kind of ridiculous," Clapper added.


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