Yesterday evening, the Washington Post released a bombshell story entitled “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador” wherein they asserted that both current and former members of the intelligence community were telling them that, during their Oval Office visit last week, the President had provided the Russians with highly classified information regarding the Islamic State that could be putting the source of that key intelligence in grave danger. According to the article:
“In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” Trump said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange. Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States only learned through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence gathering method, but described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat. The Washington 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.”
Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz would call this “the most serious charge ever made against a sitting President”. And Lawfare Blog would state that: “Questions of criminality aside, we turn to the far more significant issues: If the President gave this information away through carelessness or neglect, he has arguably breached his oath of office.”
The key here, of course, is whether the Washington Post article is true or false. If true, then what President Trump did was fairly egregious. If false, then this is a case of true media malpractice.
President Trump’s National Security Advisor, General H.R. McMaster, would make a brief press statement in response yesterday evening: “A brief statement for the record. There is nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president of the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation. At no time, at no time, where intelligent sources or methods discussed. The president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of the state, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. Going on the record should outweigh the anonymous sources. I was in the room. It didn’t happen. Thanks, everybody.”
He would not take any questions and so the controversy continued to churn overnight.
“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 safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS and terrorism.”
“I have been asking Director Comey & others, from the beginning of my administration, to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community…..”
These tweets remain ambiguous enough that they seem to confirm that President Trump did reveal key national security information to the Russians (perhaps classified information) without the president directly coming out and saying so. Many questions remain, obviously, and the Washington Post stands by its reporting. As Jonah Goldberg of National Review put it: Trust but verify. It’s entirely plausible that President Trump might spout off about something like this, but it is also very tough to believe that H.R. McMaster would willfully lie about what happened. Ultimately, our elected leaders & indeed the American people will likely need to understand the exact nature of what was said in order to ascertain how bad this situation truly is. Today’s press conference should be interesting.