In an exchange Wednesday night on CNN with show host Don Lemon, Obama’s director of intelligence admitted that it is possible that Donald Trump’s conversations with political operative Paul Manafort may have been recorded by the Obama administration. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked whether Trump, who was in frequent communication with Manafort in 2016 during the presidential campaign, was “picked up” by FBI wiretaps ordered for an investigation into Manafort’s activities.
Clapper answered, “It's certainly conceivable.” Lemon responded, “Is it likely?” To which Clapper responded, “I can't say. I wouldn't want to go there, but I will say it's possible.”
Back in March, Clapper told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that while he was national intelligence director, that his office did not undertake wiretaps of Trump the candidate. However, he said he could not speak for the other three federal intelligence agencies that are authorized to conduct wiretaps. In the March 5 interview, Clapper said that he would have been aware of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act act request granted to snoop on a member of the Trump campaign, even one granted to the FBI. When asked whether such a warrant (which is granted by a special FISA court) had been obtained, Clapper denied it. “There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the President-elect at the time or as a candidate or against his campaign,” Clapper told Todd.
When Todd asked if he he would have known of a FISA wiretap order issued for someone in the Trump campaign, Clapper said “absolutely.” He unequivocally denied that a wiretap order was granted. However, CNN reported this week that federal investigators obtained a warrant against Trump campaign director Paul Manafort before the November election. Surveillance on Manafort extended from 2016 and into this year.
Trump claimed this year that he had been wiretapped, but his claims were dismissed by Democrats and other critics. On March 4, Trump tweeted, "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" This week’s CNN report, however, has been interpreted as a vindication of Trump’s claim.
On Wednesday, Lemon asked Clapper: "The president's allies say the fact that Manafort was wiretapped proves that the president was right to accuse the former president of wiretapping him and you were wrong. What's your response?" Clapper responded, "Well, again, I stand on that statement that you just replayed and I cannot comment on the media reporting, which is all we have, about a FISA warrant allegedly lodged against Mr. Manafort. I can't comment on that. I will simply reiterate what I said in March, and I stand on that." Clapper responded.
Clapper claimed on Lemon’s show that he was unaware of the FISA warrant against Manafort.
"I stand on what I said on the 5th of March on Meet the Press," the former intelligence director said. "Again, I have to say that what we have is media reporting only. And actually, commenting on -- FISA's are classified and so, you know, even if I knew something about it I couldn't [talk about it] and I don't. And again, I will just conclude by saying I stand on what I said on the 5th of March," Clapper told Lemon.
Partial transcript of Chuck Todd’s interview with Clapper on March 5, 2017:
CHUCK TODD: Let me start with the President's tweets yesterday, this idea that maybe President Obama ordered an illegal wiretap of his offices. If something like that happened, would this be something you would be aware of?
JAMES CLAPPER: I would certainly hope so. I can't say-- obviously, I'm not, I can't speak officially anymore. But I will say that, for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against-- the president elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign. I can't speak for other Title Three authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity.
CHUCK TODD: Yeah, I was just going to say, if the F.B.I., for instance, had a FISA court order of some sort for a surveillance, would that be information you would know or not know?
JAMES CLAPPER: Yes.
CHUCK TODD: You would be told this?
JAMES CLAPPER: I would know that.
CHUCK TODD: If there was a FISA court order on something like this.
JAMES CLAPPER: Something like this, absolutely.
CHUCK TODD: And at this point, you can't confirm or deny whether that exists?
JAMES CLAPPER: I can deny it.
CHUCK TODD: There is no FISA court order?
JAMES CLAPPER: Not to know my knowledge.
CHUCK TODD: Of anything at Trump Tower?
JAMES CLAPPER: No.