Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was one of Barack Obama’s worst appointees, which is no small distinction. Today Clapper appeared on CNN’s State of the Union. He had no new information of any sort, but he and host Jake Tapper pushed the Democratic Party line relentlessly.
No surprise there. But check out this exchange:
TAPPER: Let’s take a wider view of this for one second, and then I want to get back to some of these more detailed questions. This week, with the president firing the FBI director while this investigation is going on, and then saying that he was thinking about the Russia probe when he was making the decision, have we crossed a line here?
CLAPPER: Well, I will just say that the developments of the past week are very bothersome, very disturbing to me.
I think, in many ways, our institutions are under assault, both externally — and that’s the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system. And I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.
TAPPER: Internally from the president?
This is intended as a portentous warning, but for many Trump voters, the fact that he is “assaulting” some of our institutions is a feature, not a bug.
TAPPER: Because he’s firing the checks and balances? [sic]
CLAPPER: Well, I think, you know, the founding fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances.
And I feel as though that’s under assault and is eroding.
News flash for Mr. Clapper: the FBI is part of the Department of Justice, i.e. the executive branch, which reports to the president. The checks and balances inherent in the three branches of government have nothing to do with it.
The president has the power to fire the Director of the FBI, and if the Director isn’t doing a good job, the president has a duty to fire him. That isn’t an “erosion” of “checks and balances” or an “assault” on “our institutions,” it is a president exercising oversight over the executive branch of government.
If he exercised that authority poorly, he may pay a political price. But the federal bureaucracy is not part of the constitutional system of checks and balances. It only seems that way, sometimes, because of its perennial hostility to Republican presidents.