Further damning an administration seen as "falling apart before it even came together," former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday that "Watergate pales" in comparison to the scandal surrounding President Donald Trump.
Clapper, who oversaw the U.S. surveillance apparatus under President Barack Obama, made the remarks about the allegations of the Trump administration's alleged links to Russia while in the Australian capital of Canberra speaking to the National Press Club.
"I think if you compare the two that Watergate pales, really, in my view, compared to what we're confronting now," Clapper said.
Reuters reports on his remarks:
Clapper said it was "inexplicable" that Trump continued his pro-Russia stance despite evidence Moscow sought to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
"His subsequent actions, sharing sensitive intelligence with the Russians and compromising its source, reflect either ignorance or disrespect and either is very problematic," said Clapper.
He added: "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."
Clapper's comments come a day before former FBI Director James Comey's testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He "is expected to talk about his conversations with Trump, who allegedly asked Comey to end the investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia. He is not expected to talk directly about the ongoing Russia investigations," CNN writes.
Trump fired Comey last month—a move the American Civil Liberties Union's Anthony Romero said rang "serious alarm bells for our system of checks and balances" and "raise[d] questions about the administration's inappropriate meddling in bureau operations—precisely at a time when the bureau appears to be investigating the president, his advisors, and his campaign for potential collusion with Russian agents in our last election."
Clapper denounced "the egregious, inexcusable manner" in which Trump fired Comey, saying it "reflected complete disregard for the independence and autonomy of the FBI," and was representative of Trump's "assaults on our institutions."
"As I have often said, it is absolutely crucial for the United States, and for that matter for the world, for this presidency, for the Republicans, for the Democrats and for our nation at large, that we get to the bottom of this," he said of the firing.
"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."
"The Russians are not our friends," Clapper said, adding: "They and (President Vladimir) 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."
The Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, on Wednesday is hearing testimony from Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, and the head of the National Security Agency, Adm. Mike Rogers. NPR notes that "Trump reportedly asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the head of the National Security Agency, Adm. Mike Rogers, to state publicly that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Neither official has done so."