It's nice to know that all this time, the top secret plan to get Donald Trump to give the Russians classified military intelligence was to simply get him to talk a length in the same room as some Russians. The Washington Post's front page:
President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.
The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.
The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.
“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”
To recap, Trump's White House handlers realized that Tang The Conqueror here had blabbed some serious info on an ISIS agent to a foreign power and actually ratted him out for doing so to the press. Reuters is corroborating the story as well.
U.S. President Donald Trump disclosed highly classified information to Russia's foreign minister about a planned Islamic State operation during their meeting last week, two U.S. officials with knowledge of the situation said on Monday.
The intelligence shared at the meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak was supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the militant group, both officials said.
The White House said the allegations, first reported by the Washington Post, were not correct.
"The story that came out tonight as reported is false," H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser, told reporters at the White House, adding that the two men reviewed a range of common threats including to civil aviation.
"At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. The president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. ... I was in the room. It didn't happen," he said.
The White House also released a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the meeting focused on counterterrorism, and from deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, who said the Washington Post story was false.
Reacting to the news, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin, called Trump's conduct "dangerous" and "reckless." The Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, called the allegations "very, very troubling" if true.
Notice McMaster's dodge here. "Sources and methods" weren't discussed directly, but that still leaves a huge swath of things that could be the topic, like, say, Trump confirming that we had somebody in ISIS giving us intel and Lavrov being able to figure it out.
The Reuters story goes on to say that the intel Trump dumped was related to the reason why the regime wants a ban on electronic devices in flights to the US from Europe and the Middle East.
The gang at Lawfare gives us a very good summary of this disastrous situation and while Trump can disclose classified info to whomever he wants to as the guy in the Oval Office, actually doing so could be construed as a major violation of the Oath of Office.
Questions of criminality aside, we turn to the far more significant issues: If the President gave this information away through carelessness or neglect, he has arguably breached his oath of office. As Quinta and Ben have elaborated on in some detail, in 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.
Violating the oath of office does not require violating a criminal statute. If the President decided to write the nuclear codes on a sticky note on his desk and then took a photo of it and tweeted it, he would not technically have violated any criminal law–just as he hasn’t here. He has the constitutional authority to dictate that the safeguarding of nuclear materials shall be done through sticky notes in plain sight and tweeted, even the authority to declassify the codes outright. Yet, we would all understand this degree of negligence to be a gross violation of his oath of office.
Congress has alleged oath violations—albeit violations tied to criminal allegations or breaches of statutory obligations—all three times it has passed or considered seriously articles of impeachment against presidents: against Andrew Johnson (“unmindful of the high duties of his oath of office”), Richard Nixon (“contrary to his oath”), and Bill Clinton (“in violation of his constitutional oath”). Further, two of the three articles of impeachment against Nixon alleged no direct violation of the law. Instead, they concerned Nixon’s abuse of his power as President, which, like the President putting the nuclear codes on Twitter, is an offense that can only be committed by the President and has thus never been explicitly prohibited in criminal law.
There’s thus no reason why Congress couldn’t consider a grotesque violation of the President’s oath as a standalone basis for impeachment—a high crime and misdemeanor in and of itself. This is particularly plausible in a case like this, where the oath violation involves giving sensitive information to an adversary foreign power. That’s getting relatively close to the “treason” language in the impeachment clauses; it’s pretty easy to imagine a hybrid impeachment article alleging a violation of the oath in service of a hostile foreign power. So legally speaking, the matter could be very grave for Trump even though there is no criminal exposure.
This approach to sensitive information does not appear to be a one-off. President Trump has previously taken heat for his cavalier attitude towards safeguarding classified information, for example when he openly reviewed plans related to a North Korean nuclear test in the Mar-a-Lago dining room in full view of other diners or when he appeared to inadvertently confirm the authenticity of leaked CIA documents on Fox News.
Finally, this morning Trump confirmed the story in a pair of tweets.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his decision to share information with Russia, saying he shared facts with Russian officials at an publicly known meeting at the White House last week.
"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. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism," Trump said on Twitter.
In other words if last week was terrible for Trump, this week just got abysmal, and it's only Tuesday morning. And please remember none of this is in a vacuum, all of Trump's previous actions have directly led up to this moment.
I asked earlier this week what it would take besides the obvious Comey firing to get the GOP to act. Giving away classified info to the Russian ambassador and Foreign Minister is actually far worse, but I'm betting by the end of the day the story will be "hunting down who leaked the story to the press" rather than "Trump screws his new National Security Adviser in front of everyone".