On Monday, Americans learned that President Trump shared with the Russians highly classified intelligence about the United States fight against the Islamic State. Mr. Trump jocularly passed secrets obtained by Israel to Kremlin representatives in a White House meeting last week, blithely endangering America’s relationship with a vital counterterrorism ally and its national security.
Republicans called Mr. Trump’s act “deeply disturbing,” “troubling” and “very serious.” It is worse than that. It is further proof of the menace posed by an erratic president who, we now learn, may also have interfered with the F.B.I.’s investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Mr. Trump defended himself (on Twitter, as usual) by asserting that sharing highly classified intelligence with a foreign adversary is something “I have the absolute right to do.” What’s terrifying is that he’s right. But what he fails to grasp is that he was elected to protect American interests, not his own.
How then can Congress’s Republican leaders seem so diffident? Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said, “It would be helpful if the president spent more time on things we’re trying to accomplish.” Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, said through a spokesman that he “hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.” But so far the best he’s gotten is another Trumpian Twitter blast in which the president vowed to avenge caps-lock “LEAKERS” among the American intelligence professionals whose years of work he may have unraveled with his ad-hoc bumbling.
There’s a danger to overthinking this man. We needn’t apply, as the Times columnist David Brooks put it, the “vast analytic powers of the entire world … trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.”
Mr. Trump created this latest crisis during an immature boast about himself. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” he is reported to have said, before telling Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, about his knowledge of an ISIS plot.Continue reading the main story
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After his Russian guests left the Oval Office, White House officials struggled to limit the damage by contacting the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency and trying to scrub transcripts from the meeting. The news media has withheld the most sensitive details of what Mr. Trump told the Russians. Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, mounted an odd and hairsplitting defense, saying that Mr. Trump’s disclosure was “wholly appropriate” while acknowledging that Mr. Trump didn’t know the source of the information and had blurted it out at the spur of the moment.
It is bad enough that the intelligence community is now likely to do what it can to wall off sensitive information, sources and methods from this irresponsible leader. But the president of the United States has unlimited access to the nation’s secrets, and virtually unfettered authority to act unilaterally on matters of national security. That is enshrined in our Constitution — but so are means for curtailing the danger posed by a leader who misuses that power.
So far, Republicans in Congress repeat the mantra we heard during Mr. Trump’s campaign: that he is coachable and will mature in office. Or, maybe his White House will, as Senator Bob Corker put it on Monday night, “bring itself under control and in order. … Obviously they’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips.”
That’s not going to happen. We are seeing the real Mr. Trump. This same inattention and ignorance, vanity and foolish impulsivity nearly sank his business — until his lenders stepped in before he took them down with him.
So what will Republicans do, as he threatens to do the same to all of us? They might start devising a plan. The downward spiral is accelerating.