Ousted FBI Director James Comey was "uneasy" about going to the White House to have dinner with President Donald Trump "because of the optics," former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Friday.
Clapper's assertion contradicts Trump's comment during an interview that Comey had asked for the meeting.
"It was the 27th of January, and the FBI, Jim, hosted a wonderful farewell ceremony for me that I will never forget," Clapper, who served under President Barack Obama, told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC "Andrea Mitchell Reports" program. "Jim and I spoke briefly before the ceremony and he mentioned he had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the president."
Comey, said Clapper, "was uneasy of that because of the optics, the appearance of independence, not only of him, but of the FBI."
On Thursday, however, Trump told NBC News' Lester Holt that Comey "wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on ... dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner, and he wanted to stay on as the FBI head, and I said, 'I'll consider it. We'll see what happens.' But we had a very nice dinner. And at that time he told me 'you are not under investigation,' which I knew anyway."
Clapper though, said that he believed Comey went to the dinner out of professional courtesy, and because any government official would go to dinner at the White House if contacted by a president.
"You're in a rather difficult position to refuse to go, but I do know he was uneasy with it," said Clapper, and he believes Comey was hesitant to go "just for the appearance of compromising the independence of the FBI, which is a hollowed tenant in our system."
Further, said Clapper, as he knows Comey well, he finds it "inconsistent" that the former FBI director would comment on an investigation, and it would have been "in Jim's case, out of character to ask to stay on."
Clapper also denied statements made by Trump and other administration officials that the FBI's morale was down under Comey.
"I know the bureau pretty well," said Clapper. "I have been around it the last three jobs I had, the last 16 years, and particularly in the last one I had a lot of dealings with the FBI. … I visited all of these places, had a lot of interaction with FBI people."
Further, Clapper said he had people assigned to him on detail and in legal interactions overseas, and while it can be difficult to assess the morale of a large complex institution like the FBI, from his "vantage, the morale in the FBI was very high," and that was because of the 'high esteem and respect that people in the FBI had and still have for James Comey."
He conceded that there may be some in the FBI who probably did not like Comey, but overall, "as far as his stature as a public servant, a consummate public servant in my view he was tremendous."
Clapper also disagreed with Trump's characterization of Comey as a "showboat."
"That's not how I would characterize him," said Clapper. "Everyone has their own view, but that is probably the last description that I would assign to Jim Comey."
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