The story first broke yesterday prompting the White House to issue a firm denial that President Trump had shared classified information with the Russian foreign minster and ambassador. Well, that denial was yesterday. Today, Trump himself took to twitter to essentially undercut that denial with another explanation for how and why he shared intelligence with the Russians.
First, the original story from the Washington Post:
President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.
The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.
The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.
That story drew strong rebuke from the White House, which eventually sent out the National Security Adviser to deliver this message on Monday around 7pm ET:
Then, almost like clockwork, the President got on the twitter machine this morning to offer his own defense and explanation:
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….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
…to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
More from a CNN report:
President Donald Trump insisted Tuesday he had the right to share information with Russia related to terrorism and other issues, his first public response to the revelation he disclosed classified information at an Oval Office meeting last week.
“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,” he tweeted.
Trump’s tweets Tuesday notably lack any mention of whether the information he shared was classified.
And the remarks appear to contradict statements made by his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster — who told reporters in the wake of the report that “the story as reported is false” — and White House deputy national security adviser for strategy, Dina Powell, who said Monday “the story is false. The President only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”
I … don’t understand why they would have sent McMaster out yesterday to say anything when Trump ended up basically undercutting him less than twelve hours later on twitter. Once again, either the White House communications team is incompetent, or Trump doesn’t even bother actually assembling a team and deciding how to officially handle/respond to stories like this. I suspect more of the latter and I also suspect that as President, he pulls rank and always seems to maintain that twitter account.
Obviously Trump is correct, he as the President has the right to declassify information as he sees fit, the President has that authority so there is no wrongdoing per se. However, the optics of this story and the question of what it means for intelligence gathering is of far greater consequence. As noted above, our allies might be concerned that intelligence they share with us might be indiscriminately declassified by the President and handed to anyone he wants to impress. That’s not a good message to send, especially given how much we need allies around the world sharing their information with us.
The parallel story with this issue is the matter of continued leaks within the White House. More on that from The Hill:
Trump’s allies say he is frustrated by the leaks, which they say are coming from advisers who either don’t believe in Trump’s message, refuse to buy into the way he does business, or are so obsessed by the Washington power game that they’d risk harming the administration to boost their own image.
The president, in turn, has grown so distrustful of his staff that he chose to keep many of them out of the loop until the last minute on his decision to fire Comey, according to The Associated Press.
“You almost have to clean house and bring in true believers that are better capable of governing. Dissatisfied people leak, so clearly a lot of senior advisers are not happy,” said one former campaign adviser.
A sweeping reshuffle would bring its own set of difficulties.
And therein lies the problem. There is no trust between Trump and his staff so it’s becoming more clear how this disconnect is manifesting itself such as the handling of this Washington Post story. This can’t go on forever or the Trump presidency will be basically gridlocked, unable to push an agenda, and unable to handle the media.