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Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, whose new book “Facts and Fears” is out now, told me in our interview last week that Russia presents the most urgent national security threat to the U.S., and China the biggest long-term threat.

The big picture: Clapper says Russia is “bent on undermining our system any way they can” and will be as long as Vladimir Putin remains in power, while China's "economic power" and "scientific and technical prowess" present big long-term challenges.

Russia
  • “They want to exploit our schisms and the polarization in this country and unfortunately we are a ripe target. It starts with Putin, who has intense animus for this country and the values it stands for."
  • "They're waging this sort of soft war against us, and the other dimension that nobody pays too much attention to is their strategic nuclear weapons arsenal modernization."
  • "They're doing all this with one adversary in mind — the United States. So Russia, in my mind, poses a huge threat to this country and we should pay a lot more attention to it, starting with the president."
China
  • They are very committed to what they're doing in areas like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, quantum computing. And I'm not sure we're keeping up."
  • "And they too have embarked on a very aggressive, impressive and scary military modernization strategy, which is keyed exactly to what they believe are our strengths."

Worth noting: I also asked Clapper about a man he worked directly with for years and who features fairly prominently in his book: Michael Flynn. Clapper saluted Flynn’s military service and noted that he had supported his appointment as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency before playing a role in removing him from that post.

"I think it ate at him that he was terminated early and retired early, and I think he became an angry man. He was trying to reach out to several Republican candidates and latched onto Trump — and the rest was history."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.