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James Clapper on Trump-Russia Ties: 'My Dashboard Warning Light Was Clearly On'

The former director of national intelligence says that communications between Russians and Trump son-in-law Jared Kusher raised flags.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
Former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperMSNBC

WASHINGTON — Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Sunday said that his “dashboard warning light was clearly on” when asked about whether he knew about communications between Russians and White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

"I have to say that, without specifically affirming or confirming these conversations — since, even though they’re in the public realm, they’re still classified — just from a theoretical standpoint, I will tell you that my dashboard warning light was clearly on and I think that was the case with all of us in the intelligence community, very concerned about the nature of these approaches to the Russians,” Clapper said during an exclusive interview on NBC’s "Meet The Press."

"If you put that in context with everything else we knew the Russians were doing to interfere with the election, and just the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique. So we were concerned."

He also acknowledged that intelligence like this would have triggered the FBI’s extra attention on Kushner. NBC News has reported that Kushner is under FBI scrutiny related to the Russia investigations, but is not a "subject" of them.

“I think so... I have to say, at the time I left, I did not see any smoking gun certitude evidence of collusion. But it certainly was appropriate for — given all the signs — certainly appropriate for the FBI — and necessary for the FBI to investigate,” Clapper said.

Clapper served as former President Obama's director of national intelligence for six and a half years, until January 20th of this year, the day President Trump took office, after an extensive career leading U.S. intelligence agencies under presidents of both parties.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak told Moscow that Kushner met with him in December and attempted to set up “backchannel” communications between the Trump team and the Kremlin before the inauguration.

Though he did not see this as any kind of “smoking gun” toward “collusion,” Clapper said that “it certainly arouses your concern about what is going on. Given, Russia, at least for my money, is our primary adversary. They are not our friends. They are in to do us in."

"I have to say as well, Chuck," Clapper added, "we have a time-honored custom that we have one president and one administration at a time. And oncoming administrations don’t get a head-start before the end of the current president’s incumbency.”

He also acknowledged that Kislyak had to be considered as part of the Russian intelligence community.

“Given the fact that he oversees the very aggressive intelligence operation in this country - the Russians have more intelligence operatives than any other nation that is represented in this country, still even after we got rid of 35 of them - and so to suggest that he is somehow separate or oblivious to that is a bit much.”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was cautious to comment on reports concerning Kushner, saying on Sunday's "Meet The Press," "I think Jared has said that he’s more than willing to answer any and all questions. They reached out to us yesterday to make sure that we knew that was the case and I’m sure he’s willing to do so."

Corker also added that "unless there’s some major change in Russia’s actions in Syria," they "plan to double down on sanctions with Russia" and will re-visit the issue during the Senate's next work period.

Clapper noted that it’s not up to him to decide what kind of action should be taken as a response to Russia’s attempts to interfere with the U.S. election, but he said, “certainly sanctions are a compelling, powerful weapon—Russians don’t like them.”

“They are only emboldened," Clapper said of Russia. "They are only going to continue to interfere in our political process. To me, that is the big story here and what American people should be concerned about.”