Day by day, error by error, sleight by sleight, Donald Trump proves his presidential incompetence.
When President Trump invited Russian officials to the White House on May 10, he could not restrain his ego or his boisterous voice. He bragged: “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.”
Trump then leaked a location from which international intelligence had been gathered, one of several secrets he divulged. With that information, Russia would be able to determine who provided the intelligence and how it was gathered.
With a grin of incomprehension, Trump delivered this treasure to Sergey Lavrov, who has been Russia’s foreign minister since 2004 and was Russia’s U.N. representative for 10 years before, and to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. since 2008.
Two unreported meetings with Kislyak last year resulted in the need for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from decisions connected to Russia and the Trump campaign, of which Sessions was a part.
The intelligence details that Trump divulged were so tightly locked down that many high-level American officials did not have clearance to learn of their existence. Authorized officials must use a code word before any mention.
If delivering a gold mine of intelligence to Russia was an insufficient outrage, The New York Times reported Friday that Trump also boasted to Lavrov and Kislyak about firing FBI Director James Comey. By doing so, Trump said, he rid himself of “great pressure” he faced “because of Russia.”
The two Russian foreign officers are sophisticated-and-notorious. They play in the major league of international intelligence operations, while Trump and some of his top administrators are mired in a minor league that breaks in novices.
Trump’s Russian glad-handing and mouth running resulted in needless jeopardy. He blurted the name of the Syrian city where the intelligence was gathered.
This fact and others undercut the safety of an Israeli spy operating in Islamic State territory. The spy develops valuable intelligence on terrorism for use by Israel, which shares it with the U.S.
If anyone other than the president had been so reckless as to reveal these secrets, that person would be open to criminal charges for releasing classified information.
However, because Trump is president, he has the authority to declassify any information instantly and tell it to anyone. The fact that the president lacks the prescience to understand the danger matters not.
Trump knew the location from which the intelligence came, but he did not know the nation for whom the spy works.
When U.S. officials with clearance and insight realized the gravity of Trump’s revelation, they rushed to erase it from the American meeting summary written for other American officials. They also notified the CIA and National Security Agency about the president’s secrecy leak.
Monday, as The Washington Post broke the news of Trump’s revelations to Russia, the White House rolled out National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to denounce The Post’s article as untrue.
Anyone paying attention found the denouncements a masquerade. The McMaster and Tillerson denials did not apply to The Post. The matters about which the officials spoke were not mentioned in the article.
Consider this meaningless McMaster smoke screen: “What the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation, and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged.”
One day in early February, Trump ejected everyone from the Oval Office, including Vice President Mike Pence. The president called in then-FBI Director James Comey alone, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Trump asked Comey to end the investigation into Russian connections of then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. “I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey.
Comey wrote Trump’s comments in a memo he filed after the meeting. Extensive documentation of important matters is common within agencies such as the FBI and the CIA.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” wrote Comey about Trump’s plea to end the investigation.
At Trump’s urging, Flynn resigned Feb. 13, after lying to Pence about conversations with Kislyak.
Wednesday, in response to the report of Trump’s incompetent handling of foreign intelligence, the stock market nose-dived. It had been rising since his election on expectation of an improved economy. The market regained a portion of the loss Thursday and Friday.
Late Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (rose-en-STINE’) appointed a special counsel to investigate whether the Trump presidential campaign made connections with Russia.
The FBI has been conducting the investigation. Because of his Russian recusal, Sessions did not make the decision.
Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller special counsel. Mueller is well-regarded both by Democrats and Republicans.
Asked in a news conference Thursday about the special counsel, Trump said: “The entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign — but I can always speak for myself — and the Russians, zero.”
Another question: “Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?” Trump answered: “No. No. Next question.”
Friday’s article by The Times cited the White House memo summarizing the Lasrov-Kislyak meeting. This is the same summary excised of classified details leaked by the president.
The summary says Trump told the Russian officials: “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job.” It adds: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Also, “I’m not under investigation.”
That was May 10. Now, Rosenstein’s charge to Mueller grants the special counsel great latitude in choosing the subjects for investigation.
Duty calls Mueller to determine whether Trump coerced Comey in an effort to halt the FBI’s investigation into Flynn, and whether Trump fired Comey in hope of freeing himself from the FBI investigation over Russia and his campaign.
If Mueller finds either accusation true, Congress should impeach and remove Trump, and the Department of Justice should prosecute him for obstruction of justice.
At the least, Trump has demonstrated that he cannot handle himself around adversaries such as experienced Russian foreign officers or a thorough American director such as Comey, who documents matters of importance in extensive memos.
Now, the nation knows that the Trump presidency could collapse.
If only the president would learn that the nation cannot be run by the seat of the pants. Nor can it be led on the basis of insults, strong-arming or sweeping generalizations.
Thought and planning is required. The work is hard. Competence is Job One.