SYDNEY -- Former U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper has unleashed on President Donald Trump during a speech in Canberra, accusing him of "ignorance or disrespect", calling the firing of FBI director James Comey "inexcusable", and warning of an "internal assault on our institutions".
In an extraordinary speech at Australia's National Press Club, Clapper, who served under the Obama administration, was slated to speak about the Australia-U.S. alliance. But just two days after a man claiming ISIS links was shot dead by police after killing one man and holding a woman hostage for several hours in Melbourne, and amid national discussions around terrorism, surveillance and information-gathering, Clapper's remarks strayed to matters of more general intelligence operations, Russia, American politics -- and Trump.
"I lived through Watergate. I was on active duty then in Air Force, I was a young officer. It was a scary time. It was against the backdrop of the post Vietnam trauma as well which seemed, at least in my memory, amplified as a backdrop, amplified the crisis in our system with Watergate. I have to say, though, I think you compare the two that Watergate pales really in my view compared to what we're confronting now," Clapper said.
"I am very concerned about the assault on our institutions coming from both an external source -- read Russia -- and an internal source, the President himself.
"Russia embarked on a campaign to interfere with our presidential election which was unprecedented in its directness and aggressiveness."
Clapper explicitly accused Russia of planting "fake news" to aid the Trump campaign, and said Russia "are not our friends". Clapper claimed Trump, during the transition, commented to him: "Wouldn't it be a good thing if we could get along with the Russians?"
"They've tried to interfere in our elections going back to the '60s but, let me stress, never like they did in 2016. Apart from the infamous hacking of the Democratic National Committee, their campaign had many other dimensions. Social media trolls planting false information, orchestrated fake news which many other news outlets picked up and amplified either wittingly or unwittingly, and a very sophisticated campaign by the regime-funded propaganda arm, the RT, broadcasting arm, against Hillary Clinton and for Donald Trump," Clapper said.
"Their first objective, though, was to sow doubt, discontent and discord about our political system. They achieved, I'm sure, beyond their wildest expectations. Given their success, they have only been emboldened to be even more aggressive in the future. This is not, let me stress, fake news.
"The Russians are not our friends. They and Putin specifically, despite his disingenuous denials, are opposed to our democracy and values and see us, particularly the United States, as the cause of all their problems and frustrations."
Clapper said he sensed "extreme paranoia" in Trump during his interactions with the new president, and lamented Trump's stance toward the U.S. intelligence community in particular. Clapper claimed that when he called Trump to talk about intelligence, the president asked him to disavow the controversial intelligence dossier that claimed Russia had compromising material on Trump.
"I tried, naively as it turned out, to appeal to his higher instincts by pointing out that the US intelligence community that he was about to inherit is a national treasure in our country and that the people in it were committed to supporting him and making him successful. Ever-transactional, he simply asked me to publicly refute the infamous dossier which I couldn't and wouldn't do," Clapper said.
"His subsequent actions, sharing sensitive intelligence with the Russians and compromising its source, reflect either ignorance or disrespect and either is very problematic.
"Certainly the whole episode with the firing of Jim Comey, a distinguished public servant, apart from the egregious inexcusable manner in which it was conducted, reflect complete disregard for the independence and autonomy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, our premiere law enforcement organisation."
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