|This photo is via the Russian Foreign Ministry since US reporters were barred from the meeting|
The US intelligence community continues to reel in the wake of the disclosure that Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, revealed exceedingly top secret information to Russia as he sought to boast and impress Russia's foreign minister and ambassador to the US, endangering sources, the very lives of agents, and relations with allies in the process. True to form, the Trump White House has denied the reports and called them "false news," yet a careful reading of the denials by mature officials suggests that something bad indeed took place. The overall result is that citizens are left wondering why Trump betrayed an ally. Is he a Putin Puppet? Is he simply incompetent and unfit for office as David Brooks suggests in the New York Times:
He did it because he is sloppy, because he lacks all impulse control, and above all because he is a 7-year-old boy desperate for the approval of those he admires. The Russian leak story reveals one other thing, the dangerousness of a hollow man.
Or is the man only too happy to act in a treasonous manner? None of the options provides much comfort and Americans are left fearing what new bombshell/disaster awaits the country minutes, hours or days down the road. Talking Points Memo provides an overview:
Despite nominal denials from the White House, it seems clear that The Washington Post blockbuster about President Trump’s meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak is accurate and may even understate what transpired last week. Numerous other news organizations have now independently verified the Post’s report.
Why did this happen exactly?
The original Post report suggested that the President was boasting about quality of intelligence he receives and dropped the information as part of his bragging. This would certainly be in character from the man we know. But another explanation, different but perhaps overlapping with that explanation comes from NBC News reporter Richard Engel.
Whatever the seriousness of the breach, this suggests that, rather than mere boasting, Trump was trying to ingratiate himself with his visitors, leaning forward in how candid he would be to show how “cooperative” he was and how productive a partnership could be.
If I understand Engel’s reporting in these three tweets, his source seemed to be downplaying just how secret the information really was. But this is actually a highly disturbing account of Trump’s motivation. This is a portrayal of a man who seems somehow desperate for a relationship with the Kremlin for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.
Another question: why did Trump meet with Lavrov at all? My recollection is that the meeting was announced not long before it happened. Lavrov is the Foreign Minister, not the head of government or head of state. Meeting with Secretary Tillerson only wouldn’t have seemed out of the ordinary. It would have seemed more like the norm. The best answer we have on this point is that in a recent phone call President Putin asked him as a personal favor and Trump obliged.
When people think about what Trump’s ties might be to Russia and whether those around him colluded with the Russians in their disruption campaign they often think in very binary terms: no connection at all or a coordinated, deliberate plot. I suspect the truth is much more murky. Indeed, as I’ve argued before, targets who are gullible, impulsive, stupid or corrupt (or in this case all four) are often the most rewarding for spies.
Consider again from the campaign when Trump went before the press and begged the Russian government to hack more of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Was he serious? Joking? . . . . It was one of many examples that people at the pinnacle of the Russian government seem to have some hold over Trump, some understanding of him that triggers his most impulsive and transgressive instincts.
I do not believe this is an accident that this huge breach happened with, of all people, the foreign minister of Russia, during an Oval Office meeting which itself beggared belief. It can hardly be the case that Trump is somehow focused, deliberate and strategic in some notional plot with the Russian government when we’ve seen that each of those qualities escape him entirely. He is, at least at his current age, wholly incapable of those attributes. But as hyperbolic as it sounds to say, members of the Russian government do seem to have his number, some ability to push his buttons and make very weird things happen. I suspect that whatever else we end up finding will either be of a similar character or share the same mix illicit actions with clownish, erratic and impulsive behavior.
Fox News watching Trump supporters who will only hear that the news reports are false and have been denied might do well to read this piece that looks at the actual substance of White House efforts to mislead and deny:
Deputy national security advisor Dina Powell has denied the story as false. Notably, national security advisor General H.R. McMaster limited his denial to the fact that, “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” Likewise, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has denied disclosure of any information on “sources, methods or military operations.” These are both very carefully worded statements that leave open the possibility that classified information was disclosed other than sources and methods or that classified information was disclosed which might be used as a basis to infer sources and methods not directly disclosed. Typically, policies related to the safeguarding of classified information treat both sources and methods information and information pertaining to or related to sources and methods in the same category.
The declaration that the story “as reported” is untrue leaves plenty of room for the administration to pinpoint discrepancies in the Post story without denying the substance. And once again, McMaster does not deny that an egregious breach of national security information was revealed, merely that “intelligence sources or methods [were] discussed” and that the President “disclose[d] any military operations that were not publicly known.” The Post’s Greg Miller, one of the two reporters who broke the story, accused the White House of “playing word games” in response to McMaster’s press conference. And indeed, if McMaster meant to be denying that anything harmful was said in the Oval Office, then it is hard to understand why (as the Post reports) “senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency,” or why the Post agreed not to publish certain details of the plot discussed in the Oval Office after “officials” warned that doing so would “jeopardize important intelligence capabilities."
This is perhaps the gravest allegation of presidential misconduct in the scandal-ridden four months of the Trump administration.
This piece is excellent and deserves a full read, It will not leave you feeling good about where the nation finds itself with Trump in the White House.