James Clapper's suggestion that President Donald Trump was a Kremlin "asset" should be taken seriously, according to a former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer.
John Schindler, a U.S. Navy veteran who studies espionage and terrorism, wrote for the Observer that Trump's relationship to Russia has long been the subject of suspicion within the intelligence community in which Clapper served more than 50 years.
"To be perfectly clear: America’s most experienced spy boss publicly termed our president an asset — that is, a witting agent — of the Kremlin who is being controlled by Vladimir Putin," Schindler wrote. "Even if meant only 'figuratively,' this is the most jaw-dropping statement ever uttered about any American president by any serious commentator."
Schindler said it little mattered whether Clapper literally believed Trump was a Putin asset, or if he only figuratively considered the president to be under the influence of a foreign adversary.
"There’s not much difference between literally and figuratively when we’re talking about the inhabitant of the Oval Office," he said. "If the American president is being controlled or unduly influenced by a country that’s hostile to us, that’s a big deal. This, of course, is precisely what Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation are trying to get to the bottom of — and, not coincidentally, what President Trump and his supporters are trying just as hard to prevent Team Mueller from unraveling."
He said Clapper had been sounding the alarm about Trump's troubling connections to Russia for months, but Schindler said intelligence officials had wondered about the celebrity real estate mogul since a trip to Moscow in 1987.
"What exactly is Donald Trump’s relationship to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin?" Schindler said. "It seems likely that nobody outside Moscow knows the full story, and we should expect it will take years of investigation by Team Mueller and the IC to unravel this murky three-decade saga."
Schindler suggested Trump had traded political favors and information for commercial deals in the past, and he said Clapper may have been publicly stating what active-duty intelligence officers were duty-bound to keep quiet.
"Jim Clapper has done our country a valuable service by stating the plain truth about our president," Schindler said. "On CNN, he was speaking for all our intelligence professionals who must remain silent because of the lifetime secrecy oaths they took to join the Intelligence Community. After months of public White House attacks on the IC, which have now escalated into all-out war on America’s spies by Team Trump, there is finally some open pushback by the spooks."