Watergate Pales in Comparison to Trump's Assault on American Institutions, Says Former Spy Chief

President Trump speaks during a meeting with House and Senate Leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on June 6, 2017 (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Trump speaks during a meeting with House and Senate Leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on June 6, 2017 (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, explained to an audience in Australia today precisely how quickly things are unraveling back home. How bad does Clapper think it’s getting? He called Trump’s current scandals worse than Watergate.


“I lived through Watergate. I was on active duty then in Air Force, I was a young officer. It was a scary time and 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,” Clapper told Australia’s National Press Club in Canberra today.

“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 continued.

Clapper told the story about how he tried to talk with President Trump on January 11, 2017 before he resigned on the 20th of that month. Trump had recently disparaged the US intelligence community and characterized people who worked at organizations like the NSA and CIA as Nazis.

“I tried, naively it turned out, to appeal to his higher instincts by pointing out that the intelligence community he was about to inherit is a national treasure, and that the people in it were committed to supporting him and making him successful,” said Clapper. “Ever transactional, he simply asked me to publicly refute the infamous dossier, which I could not and would not do.”

That dossier, first published by Buzzfeed on January 10, 2017, details ways in which the Trump election campaign had deep ties to Russia. It also contains allegations that a videotape exists of Trump paying prostitutes to urinate on a bed that Barack Obama once slept on.

Clapper later went on to say that he didn’t understand why the Trump administration wasn’t seemingly more concerned about the harm that Russia’s interference in elections posed to western democracies.

“I’ve had a real hard time reconciling the threat the Russians pose to the United States and, by extension, Western democracies in general, with inexplicably so solicitous stance the Trump administration, or others in it, has taken with respect to Russia,” Clapper told today’s audience.


Clapper also said that he wasn’t sure how much longer America’s institutions could withstand the assault that was now occurring under the Trump administration.

“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 said.


“I’m ever the optimist so I do have great faith and confidence, even though they are under assault, in our basic institutions,” Clapper told reporters. “That is not unlimited though, so the question is how long can these assaults go on and the institutions not be irrevocably damaged?”

Those institutions include, but aren’t limited to, the FBI and the broader Justice Department, where Trump has purged any people he sees as threats to his power. And those he hasn’t purged are sitting on a razor’s edge. Trump is said to be furious with his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself in the Russia investigation. Reportedly Sessions even offered Trump his resignation but there’s no word yet if his departure is imminent.


Most infamously James Comey, the former head of the FBI, was fired by Trump on May 9, 2017 while investigating the Trump regime’s many scandals involving Russian ties. Clapper talked about Comey in Australia, calling him a “distinguished public servant.”

“Apart from the egregious, inexcusable manner in which [the firing] was conducted, this episode reflected complete disregard for the independence and autonomy of the FBI, our premier law enforcement organization,” Clapper said.


Comey will testify in an open Senate hearing tomorrow and every single TV network plans to air the hearing live.

[Australian National University and Sky News and 9 News and ABC News]

Correction: This post originally stated that the infamous Trump dossier was published in January of 2016. It was January of 2017, obviously. I regret the error.


Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog



Ever transactional...

Every sentence about trump should start like this.

“Ever transactional, he offered his daughter’s tits for ten more minutes behind the Resolute desk.”

“Ever transactional, he offered not to nuke Wichita to avoid wearing the handcuffs.”

“Ever transactional, he offered a week of pudding cups if Orderly Johnson just loosened the wrist straps a little. Johnson, citing how those tiny hands easily slip free, refused.”