After James Clapper called President Trump’s Phoenix, Arizona rally “scary and disturbing,” Trump turned on the former intelligence head in one of his famously acidic tweets. In just 140 characters, Trump managed to slam Clapper for a four-year-old, Edward Snowden-related fumble and open a whole can of worms involving a 1950s Quaker motto adopted by the intelligence community, an old tweet about Nazis, and that pesky golden showers tape.
Trump — angry that his “fitness to be in this office” was called into question — tweeted, “James Clapper, who famously got caught lying to Congress, is now an authority on Donald Trump. Will he show you his beautiful letter to me?”
The tweet referenced the varying explanations Clapper has given for why he erroneously described the NSA’s surveillance activities in a 2013 unclassified discussion in Congress. After Snowden’s leaks revealed Clapper’s lie or blunder — depending on who describes it — there was talk of perjury and a few calls for Clapper to step down. Clapper did resign when Trump took office. However, it was not an admission of guilt, but part of the usual post-election changing of the guard.
Clapper was more than happy to explain the rest to CNN. The “beautiful letter” Trump referred to was a congratulatory note Clapper wrote on election night to include in the intelligence brief the new President-elect would receive. According to Clapper, the version he wrote for Trump had a few additional lines and “went on to say that I hoped he would abide by the long-standing principle of the [intelligence community] always telling ‘truth to power.’”
“Truth to power” is a phrase originating in a Quaker pamphlet on pacifist principles. It has also been adopted as part of the Principles of Professional Ethics for the Intelligence Community, which reads, “We seek the truth; speak truth to power; and obtain, analyze, and provide intelligence objectively.” His reference to that mission in the “beautiful letter” isn’t the only time Clapper has sought to remind Trump of the motto.
Back in July, Clapper told MSNBC that the intelligence community “will continue to convey truth to power even if the power ignores the truth.” Clapper also used the phrase to describe the intentions of the intelligence community when they delivered to Donald Trump the infamous dossier that suggested the Russians had compromising information on him. “Of course he shot the messengers on the 11th of January,” Clapper told CNN, “When he characterized us as Nazis for having delivered truth to power.”
That refers to a January tweet in which Trump asked if he was “living in Nazi Germany” after the media got wind of said dossier, which is how all that pee-pee tape business hit the fan. And somehow, it’s all come full circle.