US intelligence agencies have come “under assault” by President Donald Trump following his firing of FBI chief James Comey, says former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Clapper said that the “very disturbing” dismissal last week highlighted clashes between the intelligence community and the Republican president, who has been accused of getting help from Russia to win the race for the White House.
“I think in many ways our institutions are under assault,” Clapper said. “Both externally, and that’s the big news here, is Russian interference in our election system. And I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.”
In a separate interview with ABC News, the former spy chief described Comey’s firing as “another victory on the scoreboard” for the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Comey was overseeing two important investigations that shaped Republican Trump’s last year victory against his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Before the November 8 vote, Comey led a controversial probe into Clinton’s use of a personal server to exchange government emails while she was secretary of state.
After the election, he began investigating Trump’s alleged ties to Russia as well as a series of cyber attacks against Clinton’s campaign, which Democrats claimed were conducted by Russian hackers and aimed at influencing the outcome of the vote.
Trump has warned Comey against talking to the media about his firing, threatening him with recordings of their private talks.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote in tweet Friday morning.
Comey, however, has indicated that he would publicly testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee if the panel agrees to arrange one. He has already declined invitations for a closed-door session.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told NBC on Sunday that Trump should turn over any tapes he has of his conversations with the former FBI chief.
“You can’t be cute about tapes,” the North Carolina lawmaker said. “If there are any tapes of this conversation, they need to be turned over. I doubt if there are. But we need to clear the air.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also called on Trump to release the tapes “immediately.”
He also took the opportunity to repeat his many calls for a special prosecutor to lead the Trump-Russia probe, saying the Democratic Party would not support Trump’s new FBI director if his administration turns down the request.