In A Series Of Early Morning Tweets, The President Says He Wanted To Share With Russia, And Has “The Absolute Right To Do So.”
Here are the Tweets:
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
The big problem here? In trying to explain his actions, Trump confirms a Washington Post story the White House spent most of last night fighting. And he again appears to contradict his own staff. NSA Chief McMaster originally contended (there’s video of this below) “The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false.” Here’s the Post’s original story. Here’s their coverage of this morning’s Tweets.
The President Apparently Gave Highly Classified Information To The Russians, For No Other Reason Than To Look Cool In Front Of Them
The Washington Post broke this story. It says when meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak last week, President Trump seemed to boast about his “great intel” and proceeded to tell them about an ISIS plot involving the use of laptop computers on airplanes. Problem is, that intel was “considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government.” While Trump did not reveal the source of the information, officials quoted said it would not be too difficult for the Russians to figure out based on what Trump did tell them.
While reckless, Trump’s move is not illegal, since the President is allowed to do what he did. The President alone can disclose whatever he wants to whomever he wants, even if it’s classified. The New York Times explains.
Nevertheless, according to the Post, who identified its sources very broadly as “current and former U.S. officials”, Trump’s move triggered notifications to the CIA and NSA by Thomas Bossert, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. Bossert’s office also “called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.”
The White House wasted no time firing back at the Post, this time enlisting the “adults” of the administration, including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. You can view his statement here:
“I was in the room. It didn’t happen.” Seems pretty unequivocal, right? But as the Chicago Tribune, and others point out, “the thing he’s saying didn’t happen is something the Post never actually reported.” The Post reporter who co-wrote the original story accused the White House of “playing word games.”And the Post later published this refutation of the White House’s refutation of its story.
Why This Is No Joke
Trump’s cavalier move could get people killed: both by revealing clues to the identities and locations of operatives in the region, and by discouraging our allies to share intelligence with us, since our leader can’t be trusted to keep vital secrets. That’s no way to shield Americans against terrorism. According to the original Post story, Trump’s decision to share with Russia “endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State.”
Also, U.S. and Russian objectives in the Middle East don’t line up. Russia isn’t exactly on our side, having supported both the Assad regime in Syria, and Iran.
Will This Be Enough To Convince Republican Leadership Enough Is Enough? Or Even Nudge Them A Little From Complacency?
Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, referred to a “downward spiral” in the White House right now, according to Bloomberg. But he also indicated he’s inclined to give them a little more time to get that house together.
At the same time, Trump stalwarts dug in and doubled down on familiar themes. Foxnews.com played the story well below the lead and followed with a Newt Gingrich Op-Ed which reads, in part: “the President does not owe anything to the Washington press corps and the left-wing hypocrites who dominate today’s news media.”
For another clue on how the right-wing is playing the story, Breitbart’s headline says “Deep State Leaks Highly Classified Info To Washington Post To Smear President Trump.” (Nothing to see here other than a fake news story, move along.)
Government vs. Software Companies Over Cyber-attacks
According to researchers and security experts, WannaCry ransomware, which hit many countries around the world in the past few days, shares code with earlier attacks linked to North Korea. And while that doesn’t prove anything by itself, it’s definitely being treated as a lead.
But there’s potentially a bigger issue here, and one that’s leading to a face-off between the government and software companies. The National Security Agency, and other agencies, hires hackers to identify vulnerabilities in popular software, then stockpiles what they find to use as cyber-weapons (for instance to help sabotage missile launches.) Problem is, sometimes these stockpiles get stolen and leaked to hackers. WannaCry apparently pulled from a cache of exploits stolen from the NSA last year. Says one security CTO “The government has a responsibility like with nuclear weapons to make sure they don’t fall into the hands of the wrong people.”