Former DNI Clapper says Russia likely sees Comey's firing as 'another victory'

PHOTO: (L-R) Pictured in this combination photo are James Clapper Jr., James Comey and President Donald Trump.PlayEPA | AP | Reuters
WATCH Former DNI Clapper: Comey firing a 'victory on the scoreboard for' Russians

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Russia likely sees President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey as "another victory on the scoreboard for them."

“What's unfolded now, here, the leader of the -- the lead of the investigation about potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign has been removed. So the Russians have to consider this as a, you know, another victory on the scoreboard for them,” Clapper told ABC News’ Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday.

Clapper also told Stephanopoulos that then-FBI Director Comey seemed "uneasy" about having dinner with President Trump because of "the appearance of potentially compromising his independence." The former DNI noted he spoke to Comey at FBI headquarters ahead of the dinner on Jan. 27, a week after Trump took office.

“I spoke briefly with Director Comey about the dinner," Clapper said. "He conveyed to me that he’d been invited and he was -- and this is my characterization -- uneasy with it, simply because of the optic or the appearance of potentially compromising his independence and that of the bureau.”

But he said it’s a “professional courtesy” to accept an invitation from the president for dinner.

Stephanopoulos asked the former Director of National Intelligence under President Obama if he thought “James Comey would make a pledge of loyalty to the president,” a reference to reports that Comey said the president asked him for such assurances, which he declined to give.

Clapper said he “would find that profoundly out of character for what” he knows of Comey “and his integrity” that the former FBI chief would make such a pledge.

Trump is disputing reports that he asked Comey for loyalty. “No. No, I didn't [ask him]. But I don't think it would be a bad question to ask," Trump said in an interview on Fox News on Saturday night.

The Trump administration has been citing previous statements by Clapper to assert that there is no evidence that Trump associates colluded with Russia in Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.

Speaking on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said, “The facts that are in public today are very clear. The former Director of National Intelligence has said that there is no evidence of collusion.”

Stephanopoulos asked Clapper, “You did say back in your original testimony [to Congress] that you hadn’t seen evidence of collusion. Tell us exactly what you think right now.”

Clapper said Sunday, “At the time we did our intelligence community assessment [of Russian interference in the election], which we published publicly on the 6th of January, there was no evidence of any collusion included in that report.”

But he said the FBI, which is conducting the Russia probe as a counterterrorism investigation, would not necessarily have told the Director of National Intelligence if it found evidence of such collusion.

“I had no evidence available to me that there was collusion, but that's not necessarily exculpatory since I did not know the state of the investigation or the content -- what had been turned up with it,” Clapper said.