The Cable

Former Intelligence Chief Calls Russia Scandal Bigger Than Watergate

James Clapper Takes Trump to Task on Russia Investigation, Comey firing, and says “the Russians are not our friends.”

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26:  James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on February 26, 2015 in Washington, DC.  Clapper and Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart , the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, both testified on a range of topics including Muslim extemist groups and cyber threats to U.S. security. (Photo by Evy Mages/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26: James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on February 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. Clapper and Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart , the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, both testified on a range of topics including Muslim extemist groups and cyber threats to U.S. security. (Photo by Evy Mages/Getty Images)

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper eviscerated the Trump administration’s handling of the Russia investigation Wednesday, suggesting that it is one of the greatest presidential scandals in U.S. history.

“Watergate pales…compared to what we’re confronting now,” Clapper said, referring to the 1974 scandal that forced forced former President Richard Nixon to resign.

The investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to win the 2016 presidential election is often likened to the bombshell revelations that Nixon spied on Democratic operatives to win his own reelection and obstructed justice to cover it up.  

Addressing the National Press Club of Australia, Clapper — who oversaw U.S. intelligence agencies for seven years under the Obama administration and has been working in intelligence for 50 years — said President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey was “egregious and inexcusable.”

Comey is scheduled to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday in what media outlets are portraying as a much-anticipated showdown. CNN reported the former FBI director plans to debunk the president’s claim that Comey told him he was not under investigation, but otherwise aims to be a source of facts, rather than judgment.

Speaking in Australia’s capital, Canberra, Clapper also warned against Trump’s apparent sidling up to Russia. “The Russians are not our friends,” Clapper said, adding that Trump had also expressed to him that he wanted he wanted good relations with the Russian government.

Clapper noted that Russian meddling in the U.S. election had achieved results “beyond their wildest expectations.”

“Given [the Russians’] success they have only been emboldened to be even more aggressive in the future. This is not, let me stress, fake news,” he added.

The former spy chief also warned that China’s intervention in Australia was similar to Russian intervention in American politics.  “It is no secret that…China is increasingly aggressive in attempting to gain influence in your political processes as Russia is in ours,” Clapper said.

The intelligence community veteran has taken aim at Trump before. In March Clapper denied Trump’s accusation that the Obama administration spied on him throughout the campaign.

“There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time, as a candidate, or against his campaign,” Clapper said.

In Australia, he urged journalists to continue digging into the Russia investigation. “Is there a smoking gun with all the smoke? I don’t know the answer to that. I think it’s vital, though, we find that out.”

Photo credit: EVY MAGES/Getty Images

Ruby Mellen is a fellow at Foreign Policy with a background in TV, print, and digital journalism. Before coming to FP, she covered the 2016 election as a news associate at CNN in Washington, D.C., working on State of the Union with Jake Tapper. Prior to that, she was a politics fellow at the Huffington Post. She was born in New York and is a dual citizen of Belgium and the United States. @RubyMellen

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