Former Director of National Intelligence Says He Worries About Trump’s ‘Access to Nuclear Codes’

By CNSNews.com Staff | August 23, 2017 | 10:47 AM EDT

James Clapper (Screen Capture)

(CNSNews.com) - Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on CNN last night that he questions President Donald Trump’s fitness for office and worries about his “access to nuclear codes.”

Clapper also questioned Trump’s supporters in the general population of the country.

“Having some understanding of the levers that a president can exercise, I worry about, frankly, you know, the access to nuclear codes,” Clapper said of Trump. “In a fit of pique, he decides to do something about Kim Jong-un, there's actually very little to stop him.

“The whole system is built to ensure a rapid response if necessary,” said Clapper. “So there are very little in the way of controls over, you know, exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary.”

Clapper said he wonders about the sort of people who would attend a Trump rally and show “adulation” for the man.

“I do wonder as well about the people that attracted to this rally as others,” said Clapper. “You know, what are they thinking?

“Or, why am I so far out, off base?” said Clapper. “Because I don't understand the adulation and, of course, that's why I think he gravitated to having this rally, as ill-timed as it is.”

Clapper was interviewed by CNN’s Don Lemon after Trump appeared at a rally in Phoenix, Ariz. At one point, Lemon asked Clapper: “Are you questioning his fitness?”

“Yes, I do,” said Clapper. :I really question his ability to, his fitness to be in this office. And I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it. Maybe he is looking for a way out.”

Clapper, who was a general in the Air Force, served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency under President George W. Bush, and Director of National Intelligence from 2010 through the end of President Barack Obama’s second term on Jan. 20, 2017.

Here is the full transcript of Clapper’s exchange with Lemon about Trump:

Don Lemon: What did you think of tonight's performance by President Trump?

James Clapper: Well, Don, it's hard to know where to start. It's just so objectionable on so many levels. You know, I’ve toiled in one capacity or another for every president since and including John F. Kennedy through President Obama. And I don't know when I've listened and watched something like this from a president that I found more disturbing.

Having some understanding of the levers of power that are available to a president, if he chooses to exercise them, I found this downright scary and disturbing.

I think Baccari is right on the money, though, that this is not a surprise. It's interesting to contrast last night's teleprompter Trump performance versus tonight, which is, of course, the real Trump, just as it was in the unglued impromptu press conference at Trump Tower. So, I just find this extremely disturbing.

Lemon: Are you questioning his fitness?

Clapper: Yes, I do. I really question his ability to, his fitness to be in this office. And I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it. Maybe he is looking for a way out. I do wonder as well about the people that attracted to this rally as others. You know, what are they thinking? Or, why am I so far out, off base? Because I don't understand the adulation and, of course, that's why I think he gravitated to having this rally, as ill-timed as it is. He should have quit while he was ahead after last night.

But, again, I think the real Trump came through and, again, as Baccari said, shouldn't be a big surprise to anyone.

Lemon: What should we do? What should Washington do at this point? You said you're questioning his fitness. There are many people who are saying it. They won't say it publicly; they don't have the courage that you do. Maybe after this speech they will now. It will become painfully obvious to, as it is to most Americans.

What should we do?

Clapper: Well, I think, you know, the key thing here is, where is he with Republicans? And I was quite struck by Senator Corker's remarks, very thoughtful and very, very measured. And I know Senator Corker; I've dealt with him, and he is a very thoughtful senator and he wouldn't say that lightly and without forethought. And I'm hopeful that other similarly thoughtful Republicans will reach the point where enough is enough.

Lemon: Enough is enough. And what do you, what do you mean? Be plain for us.

Clapper: Well, that this behavior and this divisiveness and the complete intellectual, moral and ethical void that the President of the United States exhibits. And how much longer does the country have--to borrow a phrase--endure this nightmare?

Lemon: The New York Times is reporting tonight about the falling out between the president and Mitch McConnell over the investigations of Russia's interference in the 2016 election. There you see the headline up on the screen. The report says the president was furious that McConnell failed to protect him. You call the accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia worse than Watergate.

What do you think is going on with the president? Why is this such a hot button for him?

Clapper: Well, first, to be clear, when I left, certainly on the 20th of January, I had not seen any evidence of direct collusion between the Trump campaign, the Trump camp and the Russians. There may have been collusion but I didn't have any evidence of it.

So, I don't understand, frankly, the president's fascination and solicitation of solicitousness of Russia and Putin, particularly, unless he feels he's a kindred soul, perhaps. So, it is very strange to me. I don't have an explanation for it. I don't know if it's collusion or something else.

Lemon: You said you question his fitness. Is he a threat to national security, the president?

Clapper: Well, he certainly could be. Again, having some understanding of the levers that a president can exercise, I worry about, frankly, you know, the access to nuclear codes. In a fit of pique, he decides to do something about Kim Jong-un, there's actually very little to stop him. The whole system is built to ensure a rapid response if necessary. So there are very little in the way of controls over, you know, exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary.

Lemon: Do you see this as a crisis, Mr. Clapper?

Clapper: Well, I'm not sure what the definition of a crisis is. If it is, we've been in it for quite a while, certainly since the election.

I have to say, Don, I couldn't help but think, in the course of the Charlottesville, his statements about Charlottesville, when he was so quick to characterize the intelligence community as Nazis, liken us to Nazis, on the 10th of January, yet seemed reluctant to call out the real or the wannabe Nazis in this case. And maybe I'm being a little parochial here and defensive about the intelligence community, but that's one thought I had. So, I think if it is a crisis, we've been in it for quite a while.

Lemon: What do you think other intelligence officials now and people who have some sway in Washington, what are the conversations they're having tonight, and what will they be having tomorrow, do you think, after the speech?

Clapper: I think many people in the intelligence community, certainly the rank and file, are worried, are concerned about this. In their, and it's a tradition in the intelligence community to carry on with a mission and provide the intelligence that our decision-makers so desperately need. And they'll continue to do that.

But I think, in moments of personal reflection, I suspect they are greatly concerned about the divisiveness that is taking hold of this country.


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