National security adviser H.R. McMaster issued a peculiar response to the Washington Post report that President Donald Trump had revealed highly classified information obtained from an ally with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during their White House visit. McMaster said, “The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation. At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” That is the quintessential non-denial denial. The story was not about sources or methods or revealed operations; the gravamen of the story was not denied.
Equally disturbing as Trump’s willingness to turn over highly sensitive information to Russia is his failure to understand what he did wrong:
“Officials expressed concern about Trump’s handling of sensitive information as well as his grasp of the potential consequences. Exposure of an intelligence stream that has provided critical insight into the Islamic State, they said, could hinder the United States’ and its allies’ ability to detect future threats.
“ ’It is all kind of shocking,’ said a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials. ’Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it’s all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.’ “
It’s quite easy to image how the applause-starved, ego-driven president let the cat out of the bag. “In his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat,” The Post reports. “ ’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.” Trump behaves like a child, prone to boasting and exaggeration to make himself look bigger. Unfortunately, this child with no impulse control or grasp of what he is doing is our commander in chief.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was remarkably controlled. “If the report is true, it is very disturbing,” he said in a statement. “Revealing classified information at this level is extremely dangerous and puts at risk the lives of Americans and those who gather intelligence for our country. The President owes the intelligence community, the American people, and Congress a full explanation.”
Other Democrats were less reserved. Reps. Elijah Cummings, Md., ranking minority-party member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and John Conyers, Mich., ranking minority-party member of the House Judiciary Committee, issued a statement Monday night:
“We need to be clear, we do not know if these allegations are true or false, but if — IF — these allegations are true, President Trump may have just disclosed top secret information to the Russians and possibly jeopardized an intelligence source in the process. This is the same meeting in which Russian officials laughed with the President in front of Russian photographers inside the Oval Office while members of the American press were excluded. Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives need a briefing from the National Security Adviser and the directors of our nation’s intelligence agencies to get to the bottom of these allegations, and if there are audio recordings of this meeting, Congress needs to obtain them immediately. After an unprecedented week in which many thought it would be impossible for President Trump to be any more irresponsible, he now may have sunk to a dangerous new low.”
Republicans will be hard-pressed to pass Trump’s latest disaster off as inconsequential. Only once the national security adviser and other key national-security officials brief Congress can the extent of the damage — and the danger from a president totally unfit to perform his duties — be assessed.
“Alarm bells need to start going off on Capitol Hill. Trump just disclosed Top Secret compartmented information to the Russian government that we aren’t sharing with our closest allies,” explained Max Bergmann, who was a State Department official in the Obama administration. “Many will just assume Trump was being an idiot. But he shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt on this incident given all we know about his ties to the Kremlin.”
And even if he is “just” ignorant, impulsive and foolish, one has to question how he can be trusted with the presidency. It was Trump, after all, who declared that Hillary Clinton’s use of a home email server — even with no evidence it had been hacked by an enemy government — was disqualifying.
Republicans in Congress need to reflect on their abdication of oversight. They refuse to take seriously Trump’s violations of the emoluments clause and his conflicts of interest. They decline to speak out about an apparent effort to curtail the Russia investigation. They decline to name a select committee. And as a result, they countenance leaving in place a reckless commander in chief who puts our armed forces and homeland at risk. Now, GOP senators pronounce the latest episode “worrisome.” But will they do more than worry?
The mild-mannered Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, put out a written statement Tuesday morning, “The disclosure of highly classified information has the potential to jeopardize sources and to discourage our allies from sharing future information vital to our security. There are conflicting reports about whether or not President Trump disclosed sensitive information to the Russians. Although the President has the legal authority to disclose classified information, it would be very troubling if he did share such sensitive reporting with the Russians. The Senate Intelligence Committee should be briefed on this important issue immediately.” And if the facts as reported are confirmed, what does she propose we do?
The enabling needs to end; otherwise, Republicans will as culpable as Trump for the potential parade of reckless, stupid and/or illegal actions yet to come.