James Clapper: democratic institutions are ‘under assault’ by Trump

Former national intelligence director hammers the president’s actions, calling James Comey’s firing ‘another victory for Russia’

By Oliver Laughland in New York / The Guardian / Sunday 14 May 2017 12.36 EDT

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, has accused Donald Trump of placing American democratic institutions “under assault” following the sacking of James Comey – and cautioned that the former FBI director’s removal is “another victory” for Russia.

The forceful criticism comes as the Department of Justice began screening candidates for Comey’s replacement and Democrats renewed calls for a special prosecutor to oversee an investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

“I think in many ways our institutions are under assault,” Clapper told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “Both externally, and that’s the big news here, is Russian interference in our election system. And I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.”

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When asked to clarify if the internal assault came from the president directly, the former spy chief added: “Exactly.”

In a later interview on ABC news, Clapper added that “the Russians have to consider this [Comey’s sacking] as another victory on the scoreboard for them”.

The bleak assessment came days after Trump claimed on Twitter that Clapper had determined “there is no collusion” with reference to his presidential campaign and Russia, a characterization that Clapper has refuted.

The former national intelligence director, who served under the Obama administration from 2010 until Trump’s inauguration, said during a March interview that he had no knowledge of any collusion between the Republican’s campaign and Russian operatives. He has since clarified that during his time in office he was also unaware of an FBI investigation into such collusion, adding on Sunday: “I don’t know if there was collusion. And I don’t know of any evidence to it so I can’t refute it and I can’t confirm it.”

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday found only 29% of Americans approved of Comey’s firing, while 78% supported an independent commission or special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s interference in the election.

Donald Trump has said he hopes finding a replacement for James Comey will go quickly.

Trump has said he hopes finding a replacement for James Comey will go quickly.  Photograph: Mary F. Calvert/Reuters

The result is likely to bolster Democrats. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer renewed calls for a special prosecutor, and raised questions over whether US attorney general Jeff Sessions had violated the terms of his recusal from the Russia investigation by recommending the removal of Comey.

Sessions recused himself after it emerged he had failed to disclose contacts between himself and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 campaign.

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