Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Kremlin in Moscow in June 2018. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)
Opinion writer

The Post reports: “In 2017, the United States extracted from Russia an important CIA source who had provided information about the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. ... The operation, known as an exfiltration, followed mounting concerns among U.S. officials that the individual could be discovered by the Russian government.” With regard to President Trump, however, CNN’s original story that tied Trump’s untrustworthiness to the exfiltration is not borne out in The Post’s or the New York Times’s reporting. The Post’s report continues:

The exfiltration took place sometime after an Oval Office meeting in May 2017, when President Trump revealed highly classified counterterrorism information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, said the current and former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation.

That disclosure alarmed U.S. national security officials, but it was not the reason for the decision to remove the CIA asset, who had provided information to the United States for more than a decade, according to the current and former officials.

Though the exfiltration might not have been directly related to the president, the report raises several troubling issues.

First, in an effort to substantiate Russian interference, the U.S. intelligence community “revealed the severity of Russia’s election interference with unusual detail later that year,” the Times reported. In turn, “the news media picked up on details about the C.I.A.’s Kremlin sources.” Under ordinary circumstances, the intelligence community would likely not have been as definitive, but of course it was under attack by Trump, who continued to deny its conclusion that Russia was without a doubt involved in attempting to sway the 2016 election Trump’s way. Did the intelligence community go overboard, or was its revelation necessitated by Trump’s false insistence that the intelligence was not conclusive?

Second, the impression given to allies and to potential recruits is hugely damaging. Max Bergmann of the Center for American Progress tells me that if potential recruits fear “intelligence can’t keep their identities a secret from the President,” they’ll be hesitant to risk their lives. Likewise, foreign intelligence services likely will not share their most coveted secrets. "This is a national security nightmare that will take decades to recover from,” says Bergmann.

Former FBI special official Frank Figliuzzi agrees that this “could present a virtual ‘intelligence desert’ for the foreseeable future or until the national security threat posed by Trump is negated.” He adds: “Such a vacuum of intel would not be limited to Russian sources but would be seen across the global arena. As we enter into an election where there is so much concern about foreign interference, this could leave us blind to a very real threat.”

Third, the details of the source’s whereabouts now raise the question as to whether we can even protect sources on our own soil. Former FBI special agent Clint Watts says: “We’ve seen [Russian President Vladimir] Putin go after former spies in UK twice, a former Chechen leader in Germany just weeks ago; would he dare attack a former spy on U.S. soil? And if he did, what would America do?” He adds: “The cost in lost intelligence, manpower hours and financial resources of losing this source is extraordinary and taxpayers can’t comprehend the damage. Between the loss of sources and allies, America has gone blind to the world and it gravely affects foreign policy.”

In sum, this incident is one more event in a chaotic presidency. The American president’s recklessness, lack of credibility and weirdly deferential behavior with Putin — going so far as to act as his emissary in trying to allow Russia back into the Group of Seven — have no precedent in U.S. history. The loyalty of the commander in chief is legitimately in question. Congress and voters should take this into account as they consider how and when to remove him from office.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: It’s undeniable: Trump and the Russians are locked at the hip

David Von Drehle: What does Trump see in Putin anyway?

Max Boot: Here are 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian asset

David J. Kramer: Trump wants Russia to join the G-7. Here’s why that’s a terrible idea.