November 18, 2017
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Russian crisis highlights Trump’s incompetence as president

Shcherbak Alexander/Tass | TNS | BDN
Shcherbak Alexander/Tass | TNS | BDN
From left, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak talk during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Day by crisis-filled day, Donald Trump shows he doesn’t have the discipline, smarts or demeanor to be president.

In his most dangerous and irresponsible act so far, Trump shared highly classified information with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S., who visited the White House last week.

The incident, and Trump’s response to it, shows he has no understanding of nor concern for the security of American citizens, one of his top responsibilities as president.

This doubt was confirmed early Tuesday morning, when Trump essentially bragged that, yes, in fact, he had shared the classified information — because he can.

“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,” he tweeted early Tuesday morning.

This came after several Trump staff members denied that the president had done any such thing. His sharing of classified information was first revealed Monday by The Washington Post.

The paper reported the Trump shared with the Russians classified information about an Islamic State plot involving the use of laptops on commercial airplanes. Trump told the Russians details of the plot that the U.S. had received from a partner country. That country had not agreed to share such information with the Russians. Most alarming, Trump revealed the city where the partner had gained the information, the Post reported.

Intelligence experts warned that such information could allow the Russians to track down the source of the intelligence, putting at risk the methods and sources used to gain sensitive information that is critical to fighting Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and other countries.

Likely aware of this danger, White House staff quickly alerted the CIA and National Security Agency about Trump’s comments. His comments also were stricken from an internal memo and a transcript of the meeting was shared with only a small group of people.

Russia, despite recent Republican efforts to whitewash its reputation, is not a U.S. ally. Its goals in Syria, for one example, are counter to those of the United States.

According to an official familiar with details of last Wednesday’s White House meeting, Trump bragged to the Russians that “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.”

Sharing the information isn’t against the law, but it is a profoundly dangerous move that sets back U.S. intelligence gathering efforts, especially in the fight against the Islamic State. It tells our allies that we are not trustworthy partners in intelligence gathering and sharing. And it likely put lives at risk.

Of course, the intelligence breach didn’t happen in a vacuum. The day before the White House meeting, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for, in Trump’s own words, “this Russia thing.” The FBI is investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s attorney general had to recuse himself from the investigation because he failed to disclose his meetings with Russian officials. The FBI is also investigating former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s relationship with Russia, a probe Trump apparently tried to stop, according to news reports.

Several legal and national security scholars, including a Harvard Law professor and three Brookings Institution experts on national security law, shared their detailed assessment of the Trump security breach on the Lawfare blog. “If the President gave this information away through carelessness or neglect, he has arguably breached his oath of office,” they wrote. “[I]n taking the oath President Trump swore to ‘faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States’ and to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States’ to the best of his ability. It’s very hard to argue that carelessly giving away highly sensitive material to an adversary foreign power constitutes a faithful execution of the office of President.”

Their conclusion: “Trump’s alleged screw-up with the Russians reveals yet again what we have learned many times in the last four months: The successful operation of our government assumes a minimally competent Chief Executive that we now lack.”

It’s a harsh but accurate assessment that should prompt members of Congress, especially those who were apoplectic about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information, to seriously consider the damage Trump is doing to America — and to put a stop to it.

 


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