November 20, 2017

James Clapper on Donald Trump, Russia, and the First Line of His Obituary

Featuring James Clapper

Source: GQ Magazine

Journalist Mattathias Schwartz

James Clapper met Donald Trump for the first time on the morning of January 6, in a conference room at Trump Tower. Clapper, a retired three-star general, grew up in a military family and volunteered for two tours in Vietnam. Trump got five deferments: four for college, one for bone spurs. Clapper avoids scrutiny. Among his staff, he earned the nickname Grumpy Cat for his habit of scrunching up his weathered face during interviews and congressional hearings. Trump has a face optimized for broadcast, a Kabuki mask of synthetic emotion. He would hardly exist were it not for television. Despite these differences, the two men seemed to hit it off. There was no hint of how Trump would behave over the months that followed, diminishing both his office and his country to the point that Clapper would do something drastic, something that he never believed he would do—condemn a sitting president. Clapper remembers Trump at that first meeting as friendly and solicitous, flattering him with compliments. As Obama's director of national intelligence, Clapper had been tasked with investigating the role that Russia might have played in Trump's victory. He'd come to Trump Tower, with a group that included then FBI director James Comey, to brief the president-elect on the intelligence community's findings: that Vladimir Putin had attempted to intervene in the election, and in Trump's favor. At the time, Trump seemed to take the news well. "It was a professional exchange," Clapper told me.

As the meeting wrapped up, Comey stayed behind to share with Trump a bit more. He explained that a "dossier" full of salacious allegations linking Trump to Russia had been circulating widely around Washington for some time. "The main point was to warn him that it was out there," Clapper said. Days later, on January 10, BuzzFeed published 35 pages of the dossier. Suddenly, the Donald Trump who'd been so collegial turned into a very different man

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  • James Clapper