Tue, May 16, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Trump, Russia threaten US democracy: Clapper

AP, WASHINGTON

Former US National Intelligence director James Clapper on Monday last week testifies before a US Senate subcommittee on crime and terrorism.

Photo: AP

US democracy is “under assault” on separate fronts from US President Donald Trump and Russia, former US director of national intelligence James Clapper said on Sunday, expressing dismay over the abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey amid a probe into Moscow’s meddling in US elections and possible ties with the Trump campaign.

As Trump works to fast-track Comey’s successor, lawmakers from both parties urged him to steer clear of any politicians for the job and said he must “clean up the mess that he mostly created.”

“I think, in many ways, our institutions are under assault, both externally — and that’s the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system,” Clapper said. “I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.”

When he was asked: “Internally, from the president?” Clapper said: “Exactly.”

Clapper spoke following Trump’s sudden firing of Comey last week, which drew sharp criticism because it came amid the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election.

Clapper said the US’ founding fathers had created three co-equal branches of government with checks and balances, but with Trump as president, that was now “eroding.”

The White House had no immediate comment.

No White House aide appeared on the Sunday news shows, leaving US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley to defend Trump.

“The president is the CEO of the country. He can hire and fire whoever he wants,” she said.

Lawmakers from both parties reprimanded Trump’s actions, which included shifting explanations from the White House for Comey’s dismissal and an ominous tweet by Trump that warned Comey against leaks to the press because he might have “tapes” of their conversations.

The lawmakers called for a new FBI director without any political background and said Trump would need to hand over to US Congress any taped conversations with Comey, if they exist.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the committee, said selecting an FBI agent to lead the agency would allow the nation to “reset.”

He dismissed as less desirable at least two of the 14 candidates under consideration by Trump, former representative Mike Rogers and Senator John Cornyn, saying that “these are not normal circumstances.”

Rogers, an ex-FBI agent and former chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, has drawn the backing of the FBI Agents Association. Cornyn is the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.

“It’s now time to pick somebody 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,” Graham said.

“The president has a chance to clean up the mess he mostly created,” Graham said. “I have no evidence that the president colluded with the Russians at all ... but we don’t know all the evidence yet.”

Senator Mike Lee, a Republican, continued to argue that the president should consider Merrick Garland — the federal judge nominated to the US Supreme Court last year by then-US president Barack Obama.

Lee said he was “absolutely serious about it.”

A former top aide to Senator Mitch McConnell, Josh Holmes, said McConnell is interested in the suggestion.

“I think the Senate majority leader thinks that’s a fantastic idea,” Holmes said.

Garland never got a hearing due to Republican obstruction and the high court vacancy was filled last month by Neil Gorsuch.

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