Former Intel chief James Clapper on Trump speech: 'I just find this extremely disturbing'


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President Trump addressed a rally in Phoenix saying Democrats are getting in the way of building a border wall.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Anyone expecting a calmer, more moderate President Trump is sorely disappointed.

His aggressive performance at a late Tuesday night political rally in Phoenix – which included attacks on other Republicans and the media and an apparent threat to shut down the government unless Congress funds a Mexican border wall – led a former intelligence chief to publicly question his stability. 

“I just find this extremely disturbing,” said James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, speaking on CNN after Trump’s remarks in Arizona.

“I really question his ability to be – his fitness to be – in this office, and I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it,” Clapper said.

Clapper, who left position at the helm of the U.S. intelligence community at the end of the Obama administration, also said he was concerned about the president’s access to nuclear codes if he has “a fit of pique” over North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

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

Trump’s performance came the night came the night after a sober speech about a new military strategy in Afghanistan. Trump, who read primarily from a prepared speech which also called for national unity in the wake of clashes in Charlottesville after a white supremacist rally earlier this month.

Yet, just 24 hours later, Trump had returned to the unfiltered, combative approach he relied on during the campaign.

More: ‘Vintage Trump’: President unloads on enemies at Phoenix rally

Critics said Trump showed a lack of perspective in which he attacked the media and domestic political opponents than of the nation’s enemies.

“Trump doesn’t just criticize media more than he criticizes neo-Nazis – he criticizes them more than radical Islamic terrorists,” tweeted Republican pollster Frank Luntz.

In another post, Luntz said “President Trump is talking more about his war with the media than the War in Afghanistan.” 

In his first political rally since the controversy over his comments about racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., Trump continued to say that both sides were responsible for the violence at the white supremacist rally to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. 

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who had asked Trump to cancel the rally, noted that a young woman in Charlottesville died after a white supremacist drive his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

“It wasn’t the right time for a campaign rally here in Phoenix,” Stanton said Wednesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Stanton, a Democrat, said Trump’s performance “continued to divide this country.”

In Phoenix, Trump claiming the media downplayed his criticisms of white supremacists. “They don’t want to report that I spoke out forcefully against hatred, bigotry, and violence, and strongly condemned the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, and the KKK. I’m really doing this more than anything else — because you know where my heart is — to show you how damn dishonest these people are.”

More: President Trump condemns white supremacists after Charlottesville violence

The media did cover Trump’s condemnations, which came after an initial statement in which Trump said “many sides” were to blame for the violence. In the president’s own retelling of his past comments, however, Trump omitted his references to “many sides” or “both sides” being involved in the violence.

What’s more, in a long and winding press conference at Trump Tower the day after his condemnation of groups such as the KKK and neo-Nazis, Trump said left wing protesters were just as violent as white supremacists – which set off a firestorm of criticism from members of both parties. 

More: Trump’s assertion left wing protesters just as violent as white supremacists in Charlottesville sets off firestorm

During his hour-long-plus harangue in Phoenix, Trump also:

  • Protested the movement to remove Confederate-era statues

“They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history,” 

  • Raised the specter of a government shutdown

He suggested he would not sign a budget bill if it did not included money for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.  “Believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

  • Strongly suggested he would pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Arpaio was convicted for contempt of court over his use of anti-migrant patrols along the U.S-Mexican border, Taunting the media by not using the word “pardon,” Trump said: “I’ll make a prediction. I think he’s going to be just fine, OK?”

  • Also attacked Arizona’s Republican senators without mentioning them by name

Even as he said his team asked him not to attack anyone by name in his speech, Trump referred to John McCain’s vote against a “skinny repeal” of President Obama’s health care plan. “One vote away,” Trump said. “I will not mention any names.” McCain returned to Washington to cast the vote as he battled a recent brain cancer diagnosis. 

As for the other Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, Trump said, “nobody wants me to talk about your other senator who is weak on borders, weak on crime.”

On Wednesday morning, Trump pronounced that he was pleased with the rally, and called out one of Arizona’s Republican senators by name.

“Phoenix crowd last night was amazing – a packed house,” Trump tweeted. “I love the Great State of Arizona. Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime & border!”

  • Trump lashes at media over Charlottesville

    Trump lashes at media over Charlottesville

  • Trump: Democrats are 'obstructionists'

    Trump: Democrats are ‘obstructionists’

  • President Trump says he might pardon former Ariz. Sheriff Arpaio

    President Trump says he might pardon former Ariz. Sheriff Arpaio

  • Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio convicted of criminal contempt

    Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio convicted of criminal contempt

  • Trump says Joe Arpaio 'will be just fine'

    Trump says Joe Arpaio ‘will be just fine’

  • Raw: President Trump visits Marines in Yuma

    Raw: President Trump visits Marines in Yuma

  • Raw: Trump visits border patrol in Arizona

    Raw: Trump visits border patrol in Arizona

  • Trump rally in downtown Phoenix: Supporters, protesters meet at convention center

    Trump rally in downtown Phoenix: Supporters, protesters meet at convention center

  • Trump supporters lined up outside the Phoenix Convention Center

    Trump supporters lined up outside the Phoenix Convention Center

  • President Donald Trump arrives in Phoenix

    President Donald Trump arrives in Phoenix

 

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