Watergate ‘pales’ in comparison to Trump-Russia scandal, says ex-spy chief James Clapper

Key Points
  • Former director of U.S. national intelligence James Clapper says the situation in U.S. politics worse now than during Watergate.
  • Allegations of U.S.-Russia ties need to be investigated urgently.
  • He says James Comey's firing was "inexcusable."
Watergate 'pales' in comparison to Trump-Russia scandal, says ex-spy chief James Clapper

The situation in Washington has become more serious than during the Watergate scandal, and investigators must get to the bottom of ties between the Trump administration and Russia, the former director of U.S. national intelligence said Wednesday.

In a speech to Australia's National Press Club, James Clapper said allegations that President Donald Trump shared intelligence with Moscow were "very problematic" and that the Watergate scandal, which led to President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974, "pales" in comparison.

"I lived through Watergate. I was on active duty then as a young officer in the Air Force, and it was a scary time. But it was against the backdrop of all the post-Vietnam trauma, which seemed, at least in my memory, amplified the crisis in our system with Watergate."

Former top spy in the US is throwing cold water on Trump's wiretapping accusations

The Watergate scandal encompassed the U.S. government's involvement in a range of illegal activities under the Nixon administration, including a burglary at the Democratic National Committee's Watergate headquarters.

"I have to say though that I think when you compare the two, Watergate pales, really, in my view, compared to what we're confronting now."

Clapper's comments in Canberra came a day before former FBI chief James Comey is to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into whether Trump's campaign team colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Comey had been leading the FBI's investigation before he was abruptly fired by Trump last month. Critics say the dismissal was due to Comey's refusal to comply with Trump's request to stop an investigation into his advisers.

Obama was justified in new Russia sanctions: Clapper

Clapper, who served under the Obama administration, described the firing as "egregious and inexcusable."

"I characterize it as inexplicable. I don't understand that," he said.

"It is absolutely crucial for the United States, and for that matter for the world, for this presidency, for the Republicans, for the Democrats and for our nation at large, that we get to the bottom of this."

Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.