A couple of weeks ago, former CIA Director John Brennan, responding to Donald Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville, could hardly contain his frustrations. The Republican president, Brennan said, through “his words and his actions,” is “putting our national security and our collective futures at grave risk.”
The former CIA director added that Trump is poised to do “lasting harm to American society and to our standing in the world.”
As it happens, Brennan isn’t the only former intelligence chief thinking along these lines. As the Washington Post noted, James Clapper, the Obama administration’s Director of National Intelligence, was equally incensed after watching Trump’s remarks last night in Phoenix.
James R. Clapper Jr., former national intelligence director, questioned President Trump’s fitness for office following his freewheeling speech in Phoenix on Tuesday night, which Clapper labeled “downright scary and disturbing.”
“I really question his ability to be – his fitness to be – in this office,” Clapper told CNN’s Don Lemon early Wednesday morning. “I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it – maybe he is looking for a way out.”
Clapper went on to say that he found the president’s speech “downright scary and disturbing,” adding that Trump exhibits a “complete intellectual, moral, and ethical void…. How much longer does the country have to – to borrow a phrase – endure this nightmare?”
The former DNI went on to say, “I worry about, frankly, the access to nuclear codes.”
I imagine some will look at reports like these and assume that partisanship is the driving motivation for the criticisms. Intelligence chiefs like Brannan and Clapper are veterans of a Democratic administration, so, the argument goes, they’ll naturally be critical of a Republican president.
But that’s the wrong way to perceive the developments. For one thing, guys like Clapper have worked in U.S. intelligence for decades, and served in various capacities in Democratic and Republican administrations. To assume that they’re knee-jerk partisans with an anti-Trump political agenda is wrong.
For another, these kinds of criticisms from top former intelligence chiefs is highly unusual, and seems to reflect deep and genuine concerns.