The controversies surrounding Donald Trump are worse than Watergate, which was one of the biggest scandals in modern political history, America’s former top spy says.
In a scathing assessment of the US president, James Clapper on Wednesday laid bare his anxieties about Mr Trump.
The retired director of national intelligence reiterated his concern about Mr Trump’s “assault” on the United States and its institutions – from the firing of FBI director James Comey to being “trusting buds” with Russia.
“Watergate pales really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now,” he told Australia’s National Press Club in Canberra.
Mr Trump’s sharing of sensitive intelligence with the Russians and compromising its source reflected either ignorance or disrespect.
Either is very problematic, Mr Clapper said.
“Certainly, the whole episode with the firing of Jim Comey … apart from the egregious inexcusable manner in which it was conducted, reflects complete disregard for the independence and autonomy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
He also took a swipe at Mr Trump for comparing the US intelligence community to Nazi Germany, believing he and his team were extremely paranoid about their probe into Russian interference casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election.
“Which, if course, our assessment did.”
Mr Clapper was at a loss to explain the Trump administration’s “solicitousness” of the Russians, saying it was crucial for both the US and the world to get to the bottom of the relationship.
Russia was not a friend and it, and its leader Vladimir Putin, were diametrically opposed to Western democracies.
He revealed Mr Trump asked him directly to publicly refute the infamous dossier into his Russian ties, but “I couldn’t and wouldn’t do”.
“Is there a smoking gun with all the smoke? I don’t know the answer to that.”
Mr Clapper could not say how long the “assaults” could continue without doing irrevocable damage.
There was already a fairly high-level of angst and exasperation internationally.
But he urged Australia to “keep on keeping on” and make decisions based on its national interest.
“I think Prime Minister Turnbull has found the balance between being very tactful with our president but at the same time not compromising Australia’s interests and its sovereignty,” he said.
The long-serving intelligence chief said America’s issues with Russia were similar to Australia’s with China, and urged careful engagement.
“Australia should engage China but with both caution and confidence – eyes wide open, weighing its strategic and economic interests, never forgetting the importance of its democratic institutions and values.”