Clapper on 'Spygate': I never have liked the term 'spy'

Former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperDomestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever Will Biden provide strategic clarity or further ambiguity on Taiwan? 140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack MORE early Tuesday said during a discussion on an informant who reportedly met with three Trump campaign aides that he never liked the term "spy," adding that "the informant is the most benign form of intelligence collection." 

Clapper, who serves as a CNN contributor, appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" to promote his new book, "Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence," which was released last week.

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Co-host Willie Geist asked Clapper to draw a distinction between a spy and an informant as it pertained to Stefan Halper, who reportedly met with Trump advisers George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosTrump supporters show up to DC for election protest Trump pardons draw criticism for benefiting political allies Klobuchar: Trump 'trying to burn this country down on his way out' MORE, Sam Clovis and Carter Page during the 2016 campaign.

"For me, if you’re going to use the term 'spy,' which I never have liked, but let’s assume it’s a valid term, to me that suggests using intelligence tradecraft, employing an operative who has been formally trained in clandestine collection, someone who’s masking their identity or someone who is recruiting and this informant was none of that," said Clapper. "So to me the informant is the most benign form of intelligence collection that you can do."

"And moreover, the important point here is what was the objective? The objective is what were the Russians attempting to do, if anything, to infiltrate and influence a political campaign? That was the objective, not to spy on the campaign, per se," he added.

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE said earlier this month that Halper's contact with campaign officials, which he labeled "spygate," was "bigger than Watergate" and demanded that his Department of Justice open a probe into whether the FBI surveilled his campaign, a demand the Justice Department responded to by requesting its inspector general investigate.

“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action," Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week MORE said in a statement on May 21.