Last week, I talked about the Trump administration’s habit of gratuitous self-sabotage, and the latest news has provided another remarkable example of that. As Rod Dreher has already observed, the reports of Trump’s extreme carelessness with highly classified material are further proof of the president’s extraordinary incompetence.
The White House’s “denials” address things that the reports have not claimed, and they fail to give any reason to doubt the substance of the news reports. Lawfare’s analysis of the story is worth reading in full, but this section explains why the information that was revealed may have been enough to jeopardize the source of the information anyway:
The information in question is of particular significance both because the Russians might be able to infer sources and methods, notwithstanding General McMaster’s careful statement that sources and methods were not “discussed,” and because it was shared with the United States by a foreign partner. Indeed, the Post story discusses the concern of U.S. officials that the Russians might inferentially “identify the U.S. ally or intelligence capability involved, and one official is quoted as saying that “Russia could identify our sources or techniques” based on what was disclosed. If true, Trump did not just jeopardize our own intelligence sources, but those of another country.
The trouble isn’t just that Trump revealed sensitive information to representatives of another major power, but that he was sharing information that another government had provided to ours in confidence. This was information that was considered sensitive enough that it hadn’t been shared with other close allies, but that didn’t stop the president from blurting it out. At the very least, the relationship with the government in question will be severely strained as a result of this breach of confidence, and that could make them uncooperative in the future. The Times report emphasized this point:
The ally has repeatedly warned American officials that it would cut off access to such sensitive information if it were shared too widely, said the former official.
Assuming that cooperation with this government was useful to the U.S., there would need to be a compelling reason to risk that cooperation by sharing the information they provided, and no one–including the White House–is offering any explanation for why it was done. As far as we can tell from these reports, Trump was just showing off what “great intel” he has access to, and he predictably gave no thought to the implications of what sharing that “great intel” might be. Worse, this breach will make other governments that normally cooperate with ours think twice before sharing information for fear that Trump will spill it to someone he shouldn’t in another fit of boasting.
Update: Politico’s report on the story supports the impression that Trump blundered in a fit of mindless bragging:
One adviser who often speaks to the president said the conversation was likely freewheeling in the Oval Office, and he probably wanted to impress the officials.
“He doesn’t really know any boundaries. He doesn’t think in those terms,” this adviser said. “He doesn’t sometimes realize the implications of what he’s saying. I don’t think it was his intention in any way to share any classified information. He wouldn’t want to do that.”