Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, has questioned President Donald Trump's fitness to be commander-in-chief and expressed concern that Trump has access to the nuclear codes.
In comments on CNN early Wednesday morning, he said, "I really question his ability to be -- his fitness to be -- in this office. I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it -- maybe he is looking for a way out."
Clapper also said the recent crisis over North Korea's test launches of two intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, raised his concerns about Trump's possible resort to a nuclear response.
"I worry, frankly, about access to the nuclear codes," he said. If "in a fit of pique, he decides to do something about [North Korean dictator] Kim Jong-un, there's actually very little to stop him."
"The whole system is built to ensure rapid response if necessary," Clapper added. "So there's very little in the way of controls over exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary."
Democrats have routinely questioned the character and competence of Trump and some have called for his resignation or impeachment. Clapper has also been a consistent critic of Trump, but the blunt and pointed concerns he raised Wednesday morning were highly unusual for a former head of the intelligence community.
Clapper made the comments to CNN host Don Lemon, who had asked for his reaction to Trump's unscripted speech to a campaign-style rally of enthusiastic supporters Tuesday night in Phoenix.
In more than an hour on stage, Trump lashed out again at the "fake news" media that he claimed misrepresented his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a 32-year woman was killed and 19 were injured in the aftermath of a march by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Two Virginia state troopers also were killed in the crash of their helicopter on the same day.
In his speech Tuesday night, the president said that he had repeatedly condemned white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan, but received no credit from the media.
Trump did not mention that he also said there were "many sides, many sides" responsible for the violence in Charlottesville and that there were "some very fine people on both sides" in the confrontations between the white supremacists and counter-demonstrators.
The president also threatened a government shutdown unless Congress agreed to fund the border wall he promised, suggested that the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, would be terminated and strongly hinted that he might pardon controversial former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted last month of criminal contempt.
Clapper said, "This behavior and this divisiveness, and the complete intellectual moral and ethical void that the president of the United States exhibits -- how much longer does the country have to, to borrow a phrase, endure this nightmare?"
A career Air Force intelligence officer and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Clapper was appointed as Director of National Intelligence by former President Barack Obama and resigned when Trump took office on Jan. 20.
Since then, Clapper has often criticized Trump, but never with the edge he exhibited on Wednesday morning. In July, he joked to an audience at the Aspen Security Forum that Trump was trying to "make Russia great again."
Since May, Clapper has been a Distinguished Senior Fellow for Intelligence and National Security at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington, D.C., founded by Democrats.
In his remarks questioning Trump's fitness, Clapper referred to recent comments by Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Last week, Corker said that Trump had failed to show the "stability" and "competence" necessary to lead the nation in his response to Charlottesville.
If Trump did not change course, "our nation is going to go through great peril," Corker said.
"The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful, and we need him to be successful," Corker told reporters in Tennessee.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.