James Clapper On Trump And China Latest NPR's Scott Simon speaks to former U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper about President Trump's request that China, like Ukraine, provide him political ammunition against the Biden family.
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James Clapper On Trump And China Latest

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James Clapper On Trump And China Latest

James Clapper On Trump And China Latest

James Clapper On Trump And China Latest

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NPR's Scott Simon speaks to former U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper about President Trump's request that China, like Ukraine, provide him political ammunition against the Biden family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: China should start an investigation into the Bidens.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

That was President Trump on Thursday on television outside the White House and largely unprompted appealing to China to investigate one of his political rivals. We're joined now by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. General Clapper, thanks so much for being with us.

JAMES CLAPPER: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You concerned when you hear that?

CLAPPER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, under any other circumstance, this would be jaw-dropping. But in this case, it's kind of normal. And the thought of asking China, an adversary, a country that is not known for practicing rule of law, to investigate a U.S. citizen is kind of beyond the pale.

SIMON: The Trump administration, the U.S. government's, been in an escalating trade war with China for over a year. Do you think the president's request can somehow be used as a bargaining chip in that either by the U.S. or China?

CLAPPER: Well, absolutely. That was more or less the first thought I had. Well, is he willing to compromise on the negotiations - which, you know, are appropriate - but would he compromise them in the interests of getting investigatory evidence against a political rival? But don't know that - but that possibility certainly comes to mind.

SIMON: You've talked about China - and Russia, for that matter - being threats to U.S. national security. Do you have any concern, General Clapper, that an invitation like this for the Chinese government to investigate another U.S. political figure - let me put it that way - might somehow be used to prompt an American intelligence official to give information to China's intelligence services?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know that there could be a direct correlation. I suppose that's possible depending on the motivation of the individual. And that has been a challenge for some years about citizens, often of Chinese descent or have some connection with China, who, for whatever reason - primarily financial has been the case - where they've compromised sensitive U.S. national security information. So that that could happen - speculation, but it could.

SIMON: President reportedly told President Xi in June the U.S. wouldn't give any support to pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong as long as those trade talks continue. Course, the president has largely been silent on issues like the imprisonment of more than a million Chinese Uighurs. Now, human rights advocates might find this discouraging. But in a practical world, didn't most nations in this world, despite their high-minded human rights rhetoric, decide years ago they're - they won't let human rights trump, if you please, the importance of an economic relationship with China?

CLAPPER: Well, there's probably been a history of that we're - although we have publicly stressed the importance of human rights - past administrations have - you know, the pragmatics are that for other reasons, they've kind of compromised, overlooked that. I think that's different, though, than compromising this country for the sake of advancing a political agenda, an individual political agenda. And that, to me, is a distinction here.

You know, we've dealt with China. We've dealt with the likes of North Korea, Russia, others - now Saudi Arabia - who are not big proponents of human rights. But, you know, for other pragmatic reasons, they've decided to, you know, ascribe lesser - less importance to human rights than another interests, I'll put it that way.

SIMON: When you say compromise, that's not - are you using the word in the political sense, or compromise in the sense that actual information is risked and given to the other side?

CLAPPER: No, I meant it in the political or policy context of prioritizing policy objectives. And one of which might be human rights. I meant it in that context, not in the sense of compromising sensitive information.

SIMON: We've just got 20 seconds left. The president doesn't seem to trust the word of the intelligence community, thinks they're out to get him.

CLAPPER: Well, that's been his attitude from the get-go. I mean, when he became president elect, very suspicious of the intelligence community's part of the so-called deep state. And the whistleblower complaint, I'm sure, has added to that paranoia about the intelligence community.

SIMON: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, thanks so much for being with us.

CLAPPER: Thanks for having me.

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