U.S. checks and balances ‘under assault’ by White House, Clapper says

Sensitive investigations kept as compartmentalized as possible
James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, testifies before a Senate Judiciary May 8, 2017.
James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, testifies before a Senate Judiciary May 8, 2017.

James R. Clapper Jr., a former director of national intelligence, said on Sunday that he found the firing of the FBI director, James B. Comey, to be “very disturbing” and that the country’s systems of checks and balances was “under assault” by the White House.

Clapper, interviewed by Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said that America’s democratic institutions were being attacked externally, a reference to Russia’s interference in the election last year, and internally.

“Internally from the president?” Tapper asked.

“Exactly,” Clapper said.

Clapper also rejected President Donald Trump’s repeated citing of Clapper’s Senate testimony in dismissing the FBI investigation into possible connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Repeating statements he made last week, Clapper said that his testimony to the Senate that he had not known about the investigation until Comey disclosed it publicly, “should not be considered exculpatory.”

“The bottom line is, I don’t know if there was collusion, and I don’t know of any evidence to it,” Clapper said. “I can’t refute it, and I can’t confirm it.”

Trump had a sharply different take on Clapper’s testimony.

“When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?” the president tweeted on Friday.

Clapper said on CNN that sensitive investigations were kept as compartmentalized as possible. In a separate appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” he said he had left counterintelligence investigations to the FBI.

Clapper also rebutted repeated assertions by the White House that Comey had lost the support of the FBI’s rank and file, saying that the sudden dismissal on Tuesday was “very disturbing” to bureau employees.

The concerns about the firing have extended beyond Washington. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday showed that 29 percent of Americans approved of the decision, and 38 percent disapproved.

Nikki R. Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also appearing on “This Week,” defended Trump’s firing of Comey.

“The president is the CEO of his country,” Haley said. “He can hire and fire whoever he wants, that’s his right. Whether you agree with it or not, it’s the truth.”

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said the firing did not make him concerned about his own independence. He said he had a “great relationship with the president.”

“I will never compromise my own values,” Tillerson added. “And so that’s my only line. And my values are those of the country.”

He also responded to an op-ed article in The New York Times last week by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in which McCain argued that Tillerson’s remarks about decoupling foreign policy from human rights had “sent a message to oppressed people everywhere, ‘Don’t look to the United States for hope.’”

“I make a distinction between values and policy,” Tillerson said on “Meet the Press.” “A policy has to be tailored to the individual situation.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also appearing on “Meet the Press,” advised Trump to rein in his public reaction to the FBI’s Russia investigation.

“I would advise the president not to tweet or comment about the investigation as we go forward,” he said, adding, “The president needs to back off here and let the investigation go forward.”

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