What a worm. He’s making a pedestrian point here, that Putin’s training as an intelligence officer prepared him to read people well in order to obtain their cooperation. Trump gave him intelligence that helped thwart a terror attack in Russia; he’s seemingly okayed Assad staying on as president of Syria; he has yet to implement the new Russia sanctions passed by Congress a few months ago; and, as the entire world has noticed, Putin and Russia seem to be the only two entities he interacts with that are immune from being insulted by him. Putin does know how to handle him. But you don’t need to be a master spy to read POTUS. He’s a nationalist, suspicious of NATO, admiring of authoritarians, and grossly susceptible to flattery. Not coincidentally, Putin’s been flattering him in ways big and small for more than a year now. There’s no need to dive into Russiagate conspiracy theories to explain Putin’s ability to squeeze concessions out of Trump.

There are a million ways to say “Putin really knows how to charm Trump” or “The KGB taught Putin to be wily in negotiating with adversaries.” But Clapper went for “asset,” a word obviously chosen deliberately to put the most sinister spin on Trump’s Russophilia. Putin’s the head spy, the president of the United States is his head “asset.” He’s being intentionally provocative to suggest that Trump is essentially a double agent working for the Russians. (Only after Jim Sciutto calls him on it does he mumble something about speaking figuratively.) The punchline is, Clapper’s done more than any Obama administration alumnus to undermine the central thesis of Russiagate, that Trump and Putin quietly collaborated on the hackings and leaks that were used to embarrass Democrats last year. He admitted months ago that he never saw any direct evidence of collusion between Team Trump and Russia when he was director of national intelligence. And now here he is on CNN casually suggesting that Trump’s relationship to Putin is something not unlike espionage against the United States.

Jesse Watters has been eating mountains of crap the last few days, deservedly, for suggesting that Mueller’s investigation is a coup. Watters wasn’t speaking “figuratively” as Clapper belatedly claims to here but the point of the provocative language in both cases is the same, to completely delegitimize the target as a sort of national enemy.