This morning, the Tweeter-in-Chief dug himself in deeper:
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
Yesterday’s story: It didn’t happen.
Today’s story: If it happened, I had a right to do it.
Well, that’s confidence-building.
It’s important to note that nobody questions the legal right of the president to reveal whatever classified information he chooses to reveal. In fact, the Washington Post pointed out in its initial story that presidents do have that right. The question has to do with the wisdom of releasing the specific information that he is reported to have done. Trump is engaged in misdirection with that tweet.
And he is undercutting what H.R. McMaster said yesterday in Trump’s defense: that the Post story was “false”. This morning the president claims that he did in fact share information with Russia in that meeting, information about the kind of things the Post claimed, though Trump did not address the Post‘s specific allegation (that the specific nature of the data Trump shared would allow the Russians to figure some of the country’s most important national security secrets out). Notice that Trump does not deny the central claim of the Post’s story, but rather appears to defend himself by saying that he broke no law with what he told the Russians, and that he did it for good reasons.
If the denials from McMaster and Tillerson put you at ease yesterday, Trump’s tweets this morning ought to have you at the edge of your seat again. Trump may be this week treating McMaster and Tillerson like he treated his own press team last week: sending them out there to say one thing, then with his own undisciplined mouth (or tweeting fingers) cutting the limb off behind them.
President Trump has been caught acting in a cavalier fashion before, like using unsecured communications devices, including family members in meetings with foreign heads of state, and discussing North Korea’s missile tests in an open dining room. And America’s intelligence officers reportedly warned allied countries prior to the inauguration not to share intelligence as freely as they had for fear of shared intelligence making its way into hostile hands through the Oval Office.
But if this new report is accurate, then a rubicon has been crossed that cannot be retraced. And in the absence of “tapes” revealing that no conversation took place, why should anyone believe even the most strenuous denials?
America’s military and intelligence services are therefore faced with a difficult dilemma. The only way to preserve America’s assets will be to routinize the violation of the chain of command by cordoning off the president from information that he properly needs to make informed decisions. Moreover, in order to reassure foreign allies, military and intelligence services will need to show their willingness to violate the chain of command in this fashion. It will need to become an open secret that the president of the United States is, in effect, no longer the president.
The threat this poses to America’s democratic and constitutional system should not be minimized.
How, exactly, do we run a country in which the Commander-in-Chief cannot be trusted with the nation’s most important secrets? This would be a vital question in the country in question were the Ivory Coast. But we are not the Ivory Coast; we are the United States of America, the most powerful nation in the world, possessing enough nuclear firepower to end life on earth.
As Noah says, if the top military and intelligence brass withhold information from the Commander-in-Chief for the sake of protecting national security, civilian control of the military is compromised. Would such a state of affairs be tolerable?
Noah suggests that we could be looking at grounds for a military coup to protect national security from this reckless president. He says that Congressional Republicans had better start considering constitutionally sanctioned methods to remove the president before something even more traumatic to the body politic happens.
At a minimum, Congressional Republicans need to take the lead here in finding out exactly what Trump said to the Russians. Our constitutional system provides for checks and balances. If Congress doesn’t press the White House on this until they get clear, credible answers, who can? Do GOP Senators really want to carry Donald Trump’s water?
I love that Trump gave us Judge Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. But there is nothing that he or any president could do for conservative Christians that would justify tolerating a president who is so cavalier and incompetent with national security. The country has to know what, exactly, Trump said to the Russians. It is naive to take anything this White House says at face value.
“We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning, you’re going to come to me and go ‘Please, please, we can’t win anymore.’” So said candidate Donald Trump a year ago. And so here we are: Please, please, we can’t win anymore.
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