Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Sunday that U.S. institutions are “under assault” from President Donald Trump, saying he believes the Russians see the firing of FBI Director James Comey as “another victory.”
Clapper, who served under former President Barack Obama, has been cited frequently by Trump and White House officials to make their case that there was no collusion between Trump’s team and the Kremlin in last year’s election.
Trump referenced Clapper as recently as last Friday.
“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 had tweeted.
But the former senior intelligence official sought to distance himself from Trump in two TV interviews Sunday.
“Institutions are under assault internally,” Clapper told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“From the president?” host Jake Tapper asked.
“Exactly,” Clapper said, adding that the Founding Fathers’ system of checks and balances is eroding under Trump.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Clapper said of Comey’s abrupt ouster: “The lead of the investigation about potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign has been removed. So the Russians have to consider this . . . another victory on the scoreboard for them.”
The White House has been struggling to contain fallout after Comey’s dismissal Tuesday and released contradictory accounts of the events leading up to Trump’s decision.
The administration did not provide guests to the Sunday talk shows to defend or discuss the firing.
“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace said senior administration officials were offered to competing programs for other topics after he told the White House he’d focus on the Comey incident for the first half-hour of his hourlong show.
The president spent Sunday at Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, where aides said he was making calls and “may hit a few balls.”
Meanwhile, Clapper walked back comments that he had seen no evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign.
He made the statement March 5 to NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
He said in May 8 testimony before a Senate panel and repeated Sunday that as of March he had been unaware of the FBI investigation.
“My statements should not be considered exculpatory,” he told CNN.
On NBC, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Trump should refrain from commenting on the Russia investigation.
“The president needs to back off here and let the investigation go forward,” he said.
Graham also said the next FBI director should not be a current elected official, but someone who “comes from within the ranks or has such a reputation that has no political background at all that can go into the job on day one.”
He was asked about Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who has interviewed to be Comey’s replacement.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, said Republicans should join Democrats in calling for a special prosecutor to oversee the probe into Moscow’s meddling in last year’s campaign.
He told CNN he backs blocking Trump’s eventual nominee for FBI director until an independent prosecutor is named.
“We will have to discuss it as a caucus, but I would support that move, because who the FBI director is, is related to who the special prosecutor is,” Schumer said.
On NBC, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked about the line between service to the country and to the president.
“I will never compromise my own values . . . and so that’s my only line,” he said. “And my values are those of the country.”