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US democracy 'under assault by Donald Trump' after James Comey firing

American democracy is separately "under assault" from Donald Trump and Russia, the former US intelligence chief has warned.

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, expressed his dismay over the sacking of FBI director James Comey amid a probe into Moscow's meddling in US elections and possible ties with the Trump campaign.

As Mr Trump works to fast-track Mr Comey's successor, lawmakers from both parties urged him to steer clear of any politicians for the job and say he must "clean up the mess that he mostly created".

"I think, in many ways, our institutions are under assault, both externally - and that's the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system," said Mr Clapper. "I think as well our institutions are under assault internally."

When he was asked, "Internally, from the president?" Mr Clapper said, "Exactly."

He spoke following Mr Trump's sudden firing of Mr Comey last week, which drew sharp criticism because it came amid the FBI's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Clapper said America's founding fathers had created three co-equal branches of government with checks and balances, but with Mr Trump as president, that was now under assault and "eroding".

The White House had no immediate comment on Mr Clapper's remarks on a morning in which no White House aide appeared on the Sunday news shows to discuss Mr Trump's firing.

Politicians from both parties reprimanded Mr Trump's actions last week, which included shifting explanations from the White House for Mr Comey's dismissal and an ominous tweet by Mr Trump that warned Mr Comey against leaks to the press because he may have "tapes" of their conversations.

Mr Trump has been urged to select a new FBI director without any political background and said the president would need to hand over to Congress any taped conversations with Mr Comey, if they exist.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said promoting an FBI agent to lead the agency would allow the nation to "reset". He dismissed as less desirable at least two of the 14 candidates under consideration by Mr Trump, former House representative Mike Rogers of Michigan and senator John Cornyn of Texas, explaining that "these are not normal circumstances".

Mr Rogers, an ex-FBI agent and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has drawn the backing of the FBI Agents Association.

"It's now time to pick somebody who comes from within the ranks, or has such a reputation that has no political background at all that can go into the job on day one," the South Carolina Republican said. Asked whether it was the right time to have someone such as Mr Rogers or Mr Cornyn, Mr Graham flatly said "no".

"The president has a chance to clean up the mess he mostly created," Mr Graham said, adding: "I have no evidence that the president colluded with the Russians at all ... but we don't know all the evidence yet."

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the new FBI director should certainly be someone "not of partisan background" with "great experience" and "courage". He left open the possibility that Democrats might try and withdraw support for a new FBI director unless the Justice Department names a special prosecutor.

Under rules of the Senate, Republicans could still confirm an FBI director with 51 votes. Republicans hold 52 seats in the chamber to Democrats' 48.

Calling Mr Trump's remarks about possible taped conversations "outrageous", senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said his panel or another congressional committee would "absolutely" subpoena the tapes.

"We have got to make sure that these tapes, if they exist, don't mysteriously disappear," he said.

Mr Warner also said he hopes to have Mr Comey give evidence in a public hearing before his committee. Mr Comey earlier declined an invitation this week to give evidence in a closed hearing.

Less than a week after Mr Trump fired Mr Comey, the administration has interviewed at least eight candidates to be FBI director, and Mr Trump has said a decision could come before he leaves on Friday on his first overseas trip as president.

Mr Trump abruptly fired Mr Comey on Tuesday and later said Mr Comey was a "showboat" and "grandstander" who was not doing a good job, drawing a firestorm of criticism.

Mr Trump said in an interview with television network NBC that the Russia investigation factored into his decision to fire Mr Comey. The changing rationales the White House offered added an element of chaos to the president's action.

The FBI director serves a 10-year term but can be replaced by the president.

So far 14 people - politicians, lawyers and law enforcement officials among them - have emerged as candidates. Eight met at the Justice Department on Saturday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein.

Mr Sessions has faced questions over whether his involvement in Mr Comey's firing violates his pledge to recuse himself from investigations into Russian interference in the election.

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Mr Sessions and Mr Rosenstein were involved in the interviews because the FBI director reports to them as attorney general and deputy attorney general.

AP

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