Blabbermouth in chief?
President Donald Trump was bragging to Russian diplomats last Wednesday about the “great intel” he gets. Then he took it a boast too far, according to The Washington Post.
Trump revealed highly classified information about an ISIS scheme to use laptop-computer bombs against aircraft. In doing so, he jeopardized the intelligence-sharing agreement with a U.S. ally, reports say. Under the deal, the United States is not supposed to share the intelligence with third parties.
The details given in the Oval Office to Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were specific enough to give the Russians big clues in figuring out the U.S. sources, according to the Post report -- later confirmed by The New York Times, Reuters, BuzzFeed and others.
The White House sent out National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to try to knock down the story.
“At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the president did not disclose any military operations that weren’t already publicly known,” he said, declining to take questions. But that’s not what the reports said he did. The issue is the classified information he discussed and where knowledge of it could lead.
Finally, following more than 16 hours of non-responses, Trump took to Twitter shortly after 7 a.m. Tuesday with what by his usual standards sounded like a carefully-crafted two-part message defending his pass-along of information.
"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."
Apparently some Russians didn't get the memo. Shortly before Trump's tweeted defense the AP reported: "Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman has denied the report. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the ministry, on Facebook on Tuesday described the reports as 'yet another fake.'"
Capitol Hill wants answers
Republicans on Capitol Hill say Trump’s got some ’splaining to do.
“Protecting our nation’s secrets is paramount,” said a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan. “The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”
“The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), bemoaning “the chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said, “This kind of disclosure could harm national security by jeopardizing important sources of information needed to disrupt terrorist attacks.”
A big, beautiful stonewall
It’s not a hard question. Did Trump record his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey or not?
“The president has nothing further on that,” said press secretary Sean Spicer at Monday’s White House briefing. “I made it clear what the president’s position is on that issue. ... The president has made it clear what his position is.”
Except there is no position -- just a threat, posted by @realDonaldTrump on Twitter Friday at 8:26 a.m.: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
“How has he made it clear? All I’ve seen is the tweet,” a reporter asked.
“That’s his position,” Spicer replied. See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.
Can’t rewind the tweet
Trump looks to have tweeted himself into a lose-lose situation.
If there are tapes, Congress wants them and could subpoena them. Stonewalling over their existence won’t fly.
If he was bluffing, Trump faces unmasking as an issuer of empty threats. To coin a word: a bluffoon.
The take-away: Mic drop
Newsday’s Dan Janison points out reasons for doubt on the taping claim.
First, there is Trump’s extensive record of making accusations -- massive voter fraud, the rigging of GOP primaries against him, the Obama wiretap claim -- all without providing evidence.
Then, there’s the squishy language of Trump’s tweeted threat. Why the quote marks around “tapes?” Only Trump knows.
Trump said the search for a new FBI director is going “very good” and “moving rapidly,” but it was uncertain whether he’d make his pick before leaving Friday on a trip to the Mideast and Europe.
Bloomberg News reported eight candidates have been interviewed.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who had led the House Select Committee on Benghazi, took himself out of the running, saying the FBI deserves a director “with not only impeccable credentials, but also one who can unite the country as we strive for justice and truth.”
No cover-up here
Trump’s bodyguard accidentally exposed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ private cellphone number.
A Washington Post reader alerted the paper that a photo of former NYPD cop Keith Schiller with Trump on the White House lawn showed him holding a stack of papers. On the outside was a yellow sticky note with Mattis’ name and the phone number.
What else is happening
- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will brief all members of the Senate on Thursday about Trump’s firing of Comey. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged senators to press Rosenstein for a special prosecutor to take over the Russian election meddling investigation.
- Speaking to law enforcement officers, Trump said of the administration’s anti-gang efforts: “MS-13 is going to be gone from our streets very soon, believe me,” Newsday’s Ngo reports.
- Melania Trump signaled plans to move from Trump Tower to the White House with the announcement that the Trumps’ 11-year-old son, Barron, will attend a Washington-area prep school in the fall. St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, is about 20 miles from the White House.
- The hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” say Kellyanne Conway privately complained to them about Trump last year, saying off-air after defending him, “Blech, I need to take a shower.” The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment, The New York Times reported.
- Ann Coulter, the hard-right author of last year’s “In Trump We Trust,” says she is losing faith that he will deliver on promises, including building the Mexican border wall. “I think everyone who voted for him knew his personality was grotesque, it was the issues,” she told The Daily Caller.
- Candidate Trump promised a 24-hour hotline for veterans’ complaints, which he vowed would speed up reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly four months since he took office, there is no hotline and no explanation from the VA or the White House, according to a Military Times report.
- Reports from Israel say a dispute is brewing over whether Trump will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem on his Mideast trip. U.S. officials are balking because the site -- the holiest in Judaism -- is on territory also claimed by Palestinians, the reports say.
- Kris Kobach, vice chair of Trump’s new “election integrity” commission, said on CNN it is “is not set up to prove or to disprove” Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. Kobach has repeatedly backed those allegations in the past.