Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper does not know what caused the now-debunked claim that all 17 intelligence agencies backed an assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to spread.
Clapper discussed the matter on CNN on Thursday evening, prompted by comments earlier in the day from President Donald Trump.
While in Warsaw, Poland for the G-20 summit, Trump was asked about the intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in the election and his doubts about Moscow's role. Trump challenged the popular "17 agencies" figure, pointing out that it had been shown to be false.
"It turned out to be three or four. It wasn't 17," he said.
Indeed, both the New York Times and the Associated Press were forced to issue retractions last week after they erroneously repeated the claim that all 17 intelligence agencies were involved. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in November, also claimed 17 agencies were involved during a 2016 presidential debate. PolitiFact rated her statement as "True" at the time.
CNN host Jim Sciutto asked Clapper how many organizations constituted the intelligence community, and how many contributed to the assessment.
"On the number of components of the intelligence community, yes, there are 17. Sixteen components by law plus the Office of Director of National Intelligence," Clapper said.
But he added that not all 17 were involved in the Russia assessment.
"When President-elect Trump was briefed on this on the 6th of January, there were four of us, meaning the directors of NSA, FBI, CIA, and myself. That's all," he said.
"How the narrative got out there about 17 components being involved, I don't know," he said.
"But," Clapper added, "the report itself makes it clear that it was the three agencies plus the Office of Director of National Intelligence that put this intelligence community assessment together."