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Opinion Clapper’s remarks constitute the third strike for Trump

Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper on May 8 said Russia launched “cyber operations” against both parties during the 2016 campaign. (Video: Reuters)

Strike one was the Lester Holt interview in which President Trump alleged (confessed?) that he fired former FBI director James B. Comey with the Russia investigation in mind and asked about his own legal status while discussing Comey’s job with him. Then came the tweet in which the president threatened the former FBI director and suggested conversations were being recorded. That was strike two.

Now we have former director of national intelligence James Clapper telling NBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an interview that he never exonerated Trump of collusion, as Trump claimed. Morale at the FBI was high, contrary to Trump’s claim. And he could not conceive of Comey telling Trump about the status of an investigation while discussing his job. “I would find that very inconsistent with what I know of Jim Comey,” Clapper said.”Moreover, anyone who’s in a position that’s subject to Senate confirmation — presidential appointment and Senate confirmation, which his is, mine was — understands that you serve at the pleasure of,” Clapper said, trailing off.  “And it would really be, I think, inappropriate, and certainly in Jim’s case, out of character, for him to ask to stay on,” he continued. “I couldn’t imagine doing that myself, nor can I imagine him doing that either.”

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Clapper made clear that Comey was uncomfortable since “he had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the president, and that he was uneasy with that because of even compromising the — even the optics, the appearance of independence, not only of him, but of the FBI.”

Trump’s telling of the dinner now appears to be the sort of lie one would concoct if you didn’t know enough about how government works to come up with a credible story.

Since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, the explanations for the dismissal have been getting murkier. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

There are two problems coming together at once. First, the president is blabbing about actions (real or not) that would constitute abuse of power, if not obstruction of justice. It is coming from his mouth. He does not even have the excuse of “fake news.” Second, because the Comey firing sent events spinning out of control, the president now appears to be irrational, if not ill. No one in control of his emotions or taking counsel from sober advisers would behave as he is.

Former White House adviser Peter Wehner remarks, “The problem for Republicans is that given who Trump is — given that his problems are temperamental and characterological and therefore won’t be cured — I think it’s quite likely that at some point many of them will be forced to break with him; that his actions will be so transgressive, so problematic, so embarrassing and so unpopular that it’ll become in their self-interest to distance themselves from a president who clearly is not a well man.” We don’t know when that will be. One imagines that they cannot function in this mode for very long. “What we’re seeing can be compared to the metaphor of the frog in the water that begins at a tepid temperature but get hotter and hotter and eventually boils the frog to death,” Wehner observes. “Right now Republicans are in the water, it’s beginning to boil, and if they don’t jump soon, this will have a very bad ending for them.”

Now would be a good time for the adults — former presidents, secretaries of state and defense, former FBI and CIA directors and past heads of the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee — to speak up in unison. The president has either confessed to a pattern of conduct that is unacceptable or he is so out of it that he would make up facts that suggest a pattern of conduct that it is unacceptable. There are options here, including commencement of bipartisan impeachment hearings, legislation passed by a veto-proof majority to enlist an independent prosecutor and/or a decision that, aside from national security matters, the Congress will devote itself full-time to the resolution of this entire matter over the next few weeks. Vice President Pence, who has been repeatedly lied to in service of actions to deceive the public, needs to remember he serves the country, not the president.

Action needs to be taken before too much damage is done to the republic. The GOP is lost, but the country can be protected.