|THIS IMAGE NOT TAKEN BY A U.S. PHOTOGRAPHER|
Just so you know before you get your liberal undies totally in a knot, it's not against the law for the president of the Untied . . er, United States to blab top-secret intelligence to two high ranking diplomats for your country's greatest adversary, one a known spy deeply enmeshed in the Russia scandal that is slowly nibbling away at his presidency. But if anyone else did the same thing, they would of course be toast.
Let's not get hung up on this . . . well, quirk in the U.S. Code, because it is merely a distraction.
What matters is that Donald Trump has yet again outdone himself in revealing his staggering incompetence. In doing so, he has set a new standard for hypocrisy of the most dangerous and traitorous kind in repeatedly declaring as a candidate that Hillary Clinton should be jailed for mishandling classified information, although there was never evidence that she did or shared it with an ally, let alone an enemy, and now as commander in chief has boastfully divulged top-secret classified information and jeopardized a critical source of intelligence to an unambiguously vile enemy who has repeatedly coopted American interests because of his complicity.
As a PR person might say, the optics of what we now know happened in the Oval Office last Wednesday morning are awful. Sadly awful, as the president himself might say.
It looked bad enough that Trump's first visitors in the wake of him firing FBI Director James Comey were Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. ambassador and known spy Sergey Kislyak, whose multiple contacts with Trump associates during the presidential campaign and transition are one of the focuses an investigation led by Comey that was getting much too close for comfort for the president, who later threatened him with revealing secret tapes if he spoke out.
It looked even worse that Trump excluded U.S. photographers from the meeting -- a questionable decision itself -- and so the only media presence was a photographer from Tass, a Russian news agency that is a glorified spy shop.
But then Trump went off script and into the rough. Starved for attention, he bragged to the diplomats and their aides that "I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day."
He elaborated on his boast by revealing an Islamic State plot disclosed to U.S. intelligence by a Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets. Israel was my correct guess. The intel was so sensitive that American officials did not even share it widely within the U.S. government or pass it on to other allies, and Trump's disclosure to the Russians of the city where the ISIS plot was being hatched was especially damaging.
There is a bitter irony to the fact Israel was the secret U.S. partner. Reports in the Israeli press from January said U.S. intelligence officials had warned their Israeli counterparts about sharing intelligence with Trump because of fears he might share such intel with Russia. The president is scheduled to make a whirlwind trip to the Jewish state on May 22.
The U.S. and Russia both consider Syria to be an enemy, but have opposing geopolitical interests when it comes to Syria's long-running civil war, which has taken an estimated 470,000 lives. Moscow defended Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad last month after a chemical attack by his air force killed more than 80 civilians in a rebel-held town, while Trump ordered a cruise missile strike in retaliation.
A colleague suggests that what is so insidious about Trump's disclosure is that the information came from moles in Syria's own intelligence service that predate the civil war and the Russians will now out them to Assad.
The White House pushback against the deeply sourced story published on Monday night in The Washington Post about Trump's boast was feeble and, in effect, confirmed the story.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who replaced Michael Flynn after he was fired in part because of his secret meetings with Kislyak, read a statement to reporters with a pubic hair-width denial saying that "at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed," but The Post's reporting didn't say they were. McMaster refused to take questions and then walked back into a White House where shocked aides were literally said to be hiding in their offices.
As if on cue, Trump contradicted McMaster and other aides by appearing to acknowledge in two tweets about 4 on Tuesday morning that The Post story was accurate and he had indeed shared highly sensitive information. It is clear that as in innumerable past instances, he doesn't have a clue about what he did wrong.
The Post also reported that a Homeland Security official called the directors of the CIA and NSA, the intelligence services most directly involved in intel-sharing with the ally, to try to contain the damage, while the problematic portions of Trump's discussion are to be stricken from internal memos and limited to a small number of recipients to prevent it from being further disseminated.
Trump has repeatedly threatened to crack down on security leaks, but his own loosey-goosey attitude about sensitive information already is legendary.
In February, the dining room at Mar-a-Lago became an open-air Situation Room when Trump fielded preliminary reports of a North Korean missile launch in full view of the Japanese prime minister and causal diners. Later, the Army officer who carries the "nuclear football" posed for photographs with a Trump pal who posted one of them on Facebook.
As I noted just the other day, wishful thinking will not hasten Trump's exit even after an outrage of this caliber.
Invoking the 25th amendment, which allows for replacement of a president who is judged to be mentally unfit, would require Republican leaders to pull the trigger, and that is not going to happen. Nor is impeachment with Congress firmly in Republican hands despite Trump's mounting list of impeachable offenses, of which obstructing justice by firing Comey and traitorously blabbing to the Russians certainly are.
Sadly awful to say, Trump will survive this disaster even if some of his aides do not, while he has personally set back U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and other groups while burning an ally in that effort.
Press secretary Sean Spicer is on the verge of a meltdown as life imitates Saturday Night Live in what is commonly referred to as collateral damage. The biggest victims of the disaster are the American people, while the greatest threat to national security is not illegal immigrants, Muslim refugees or even terrorists. It's Donald Trump.