Former intel chief: 'Our institutions are under assault' by Trump


Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper pulled no punches when he told Jake Tapper that the our nation's "institutions are under assault" by Donald Trump, whom he says is attacking our system of checks and balances.

Donald Trump's actions of the past week are so outrageous that it is difficult to overstate them.

His firing of FBI Director James Comey, subsequent admission that the firing was due to Comey's Russia probe, and his open threat of Comey to keep quiet were so brazenly despotic that it can be hard to find the right words to describe them. One former intelligence official managed to come close.

On CNN's State of the Union, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper discussed the Russia investigation and the Comey firing with host Jake Tapper. Clapper first made a point to tell Tapper that his statements about not having seen evidence of collusion "should not be considered exculpatory," despite Trump's insistence to the contrary.


Tapper then asked Clapper to assess the Comey firing and Trump's subsequent actions. Clapper was dire in his assessment:

TAPPER: This week, with the president firing the FBI director, this investigation is going on. And then saying that he was thinking about the Russia probe when he was making the decision. Have we crossed a line here?

CLAPPER: Well, I will just say that the developments of the past week very bothersome and disturbing to me. I think in many ways our institutions are under assault, 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.

TAPPER: Internally from the president?

CLAPPER: Exactly.

TAPPER: Because he's firing the checks and balances?

CLAPPER: Well, I think the founding fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances. And I feel as though that's under assault.

Clapper's declaration is as close as you're likely to come to an accurate assessment of Trump's actions this week, which are, themselves, the culmination of an administration that has thus far run on a cocktail of despotism and shamelessness.

Among the institutions under attack by Trump is the free press, which he recently threatened to cut off from daily briefings. The White House refused to make available any representative to appear on any of the Sunday morning shows to answer questions about the still developing scandals surrounding Comey's firing.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the only Trump administration official offered to the Sunday shows, and he is far enough removed from the White House to be of no help in unraveling the current crisis. By hiding those administration officials who were involved in the Comey firing process, and the subsequent series of changing justifications for it, the White House sent a clear message about its unwillingness to answer for its decisions of the past week.

Our institutions — from the press to Congress to the FBI — must rise to this occasion the way the people and the courts have, and resist this attack on democracy itself.