For Anyone but the President’s Eyes Only
You can support this president; you can even love him. But you can’t trust him.
What are we to make of last night’s Washington Post story, reporting that President Trump told Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak highly classified information, including a city in the Islamic State’s territory where a U.S. intelligence partner detected a terrorist threat involving laptops?
Let’s go through the possibilities. A lot of Trump fans will insist this is all “fake news,” that the story is made up out of whole cloth, and that none of these “U.S. official” sources exist. If so, it’s a remarkable conspiracy, as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Reuters, CNN, and BuzzFeed all claim to have “U.S. officials” telling them the same thing.
Perhaps multiple U.S. officials are making up this story and calling up multiple reporters, telling them the same false tale. Again, this is a possibility, except we would assume that one or more reporters at those institutions would do some basic due diligence. Would this source be in a position to know? If the source is Irving Schmidlap, who works as a dishwasher at the White House Mess, would the reporters be more skeptical than if it was someone on the National Security Council?
Then there’s this detail:
After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency….
Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.
If this is all a made-up story to damage Trump, then some senior White House officials are really going the extra mile, making calls to U.S. intelligence agencies to perpetuate the hoax.
Wait, there’s more! “The Post is withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.” If this is all a made-up story, why would U.S. officials urge the Post to withhold the name of the city?
Wait, there’s even more! This morning a phone call between President Trump and Jordan’s king Abdullah was added to the president’s schedule. Jordan’s got a heck of an intelligence service, and they’re a usually reliable U.S. ally. The Islamic State’s territory is just north of their country. How likely is it that this phone call is aimed to reassure that unidentified “U.S. ally” in the story?
Take a look at this detail:
“I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the president said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.
Does that sound… farfetched? Is anyone jumping up and saying, “Oh, come now, that doesn’t sound anything like the Donald Trump I know?” Doesn’t boasting about the quality of the intelligence he receives sound exactly like the sort of thing Trump would do?
A lot of Trump fans are pointing to National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s statement, “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” But as you’ve no doubt heard argued since the story broke, the disclosure wasn’t really about “sources and methods.” The damaging disclosure was about that city, the location of the source — presumably a double agent or an ISIS turncoat – reporting to one of our allies. As the articles report, our ally didn’t give us permission to spread that information around, and this country was apparently already wary about sharing information with us. If this story is accurate, a few minutes of improvised boasting in the Oval Office just did serious damage to a relationship with a useful intelligence ally.
Keep in mind, last week Vice President Mike Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer, and the rest went out before the cameras and insisted that Ron Rosenstein’s memo was the driving force to fire FBI director James Comey… and then Trump told Lester Holt he was going to fire Comey “regardless of the recommendation.” Just last week, Trump declared on Twitter, “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” The president will insist his surrogates can’t be expected to get everything right, and then a few days later, insist that you trust denials from his surrogates. You can’t have it both ways.
This morning, President Trump offered two tweets on the subject: “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining…. …to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
Again, no one who understands the law can dispute Trump’s “right to do” this; the question is the judgment and value in doing so. And missing from Trump’s comment are the words, “I did not share any location of any source or any other sensitive intelligence from our allies.”
Brian Wilson, who’s kind enough to have me co-host on WMAL some mornings, concludes the consequences of the leak must be moot by now: “I’m guessing bomb making info was tightly held info within ISIS. Any suspected snitch within its ranks has already been dealt with.”
Meanwhile, a Vice contributor screams, “an allied informant is likely being tortured to death as we speak, thanks ONLY to Trump’s big mouth.”
We don’t know if either of those scenarios are true. (There’s a good chance we will never know.) There were media reports quoting “U.S. officials” expressing concerns about ISIS and al-Qaeda testing laptop bombs for use on airplanes at the end of March. Maybe those reports spurred ISIS to start an intense search for a mole in their ranks, maybe they didn’t. (You would presume ISIS is always looking to sniff out moles in their ranks.) ISIS controls about 23,000 square miles, as of the end of 2016 — plenty of cities, towns, and villages. It’s just asinine to tell anyone who doesn’t need to know which city is home to an ISIS mole or double agent.
The bottom line is that there is absolutely no benefit to the United States to be sharing this kind of information with the Russian government — and if it alienates a friendly government helping us fight ISIS, then it is extraordinarily damaging.
It does not help that so many Democrats insist that every administration misstep is justification for impeachment, the Twitter hashtag “#Lockhimup” (the President has absolute authority to declassify information, so no law was broken) or the insane everyone’s-a-Russian-agent conspiracy theories of the Louise Mensches of the world. But the insanity of lefties doesn’t get this White House off the hook. Unless the entire story is made up out of whole cloth, Donald Trump still doesn’t understand his responsibilities.
Contemplating Rick Scott’s Next Move
I recently had a chance to chat with Florida governor Rick Scott, and got the feeling that whether or not he decides to challenge Senator Bill Nelson next year, he doesn’t think much of Nelson as a senator.
Scott says he hasn’t decided on a Senate bid, and isn’t in any particular rush to make a decision. But a few weeks ago at the National Rifle Association’s convention in Atlanta, Scott addressed the attendees and offered a surprisingly explicit argument for replacing Nelson.
“I believe it’s crucial that we increase the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate,” Scott told the NRA crowd, after praising Trump’s decision to nominate Neil Gorsuch. “Look at the votes on this Supreme Court nominee, and you can see there are a number of senators who did not represent their states. These senators need to be retired. Unfortunately, one of my state’s senators, Bill Nelson, has veered far to the left.”
Asked about why he called out Nelson before a politically active crowd, Scott insists he wasn’t hinting at a 2018 Senate bid. “You look at Neil Gorsuch, how could you vote against the guy?” Scott said during a recent visit to Washington. “[Nelson’s] the senator from Florida, and that’s why it was relevant to talk about him.”
It’s clear Scott feels no particular warmth toward Nelson, as he explains why he doesn’t talk to his state’s senior senator. “What you learn in this job, I’ll give you a story. My hometown is in Collier County. I know who to call in Collier County to get things done.” The governor is too careful and even-keeled a politician to really come out and say it explicitly; his version of a smack down is a pause so pregnant it might as well be having triplets. But the implication is clear: Scott doesn’t talk to Senator Nelson because he doesn’t think his state’s Democratic senator is a guy who can get things done. With a little twist of the knife, Scott says, “I talk to Marco [Rubio] quite a bit.”
ADDENDA: Hillary’s back at it again, raising money for her new political action committee, “Onward Together.” If she jumps in the presidential race again, I suspect Trump will form his own: