Sorry, the decision to extract the source was first made before Trump took office, and the reason was mishandling of classified intelligence not by Trump but by the Obama administration. As the New York Times reports this week: “C.I.A. officials worried about safety made the arduous decision in late 2016 to offer to extract the source from Russia.” What prompted that decision? Leaks to the media about the covert source’s reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered and orchestrated Russia’s 2016 U.S. presidential election interference campaign.
The impetus for the extraction decision was a Dec. 14, 2016, NBC News report that "two senior officials with direct access to the information” said Putin personally directed Russia’s election interference and “the intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.” NBC News added that this new intelligence showing Putin’s direct involvement went much further than the information the United States was relying on when all 17 intelligence agencies issued a report in October holding Russia responsible for the Democratic National Committee hack and that “now the U.S. has solid information tying Putin to the operation.”
This leak exposed the fact that the CIA had a spy in Putin’s orbit who was passing on intelligence about the Russian president’s decision-making. Who leaked the information? Two senior Obama administration officials. The Times reports that Obama CIA Director John O. Brennan considered the Kremlin source’s reporting “so delicate, and the need to protect the source’s identity so important,” that he kept his reports out of the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) and sent them to President Barack Obama in “special sealed envelopes to the Oval Office.” The PDB is already one of the most restricted U.S. government documents, so the sealed reports were restricted to an even smaller circle of senior Obama aides. Yet the leak, according to NBC News, came from officials “with direct access to the information.” Which Obama aide leaked it? That is for John Durham, the U.S. attorney tasked with investigating the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe, to find out, but this much is certain: It was not Donald Trump.
It was after this Obama administration leak that the CIA first decided to pull the source. The reason the source was not actually pulled at the time is that he initially refused — a decision the Times reports raised concerns that “the informant had been turned and had become a double agent.” Eventually, the source changed his mind. But the decision to extract was made before Trump came to office.
That’s not all. CNN falsely reported that the source was pulled after Trump’s meeting with Russia officials in which he shared intelligence on Syria that was “provided by Israel.” But as I pointed out in May 2017, Trump did not reveal that Israel was the source of the intelligence. That piece of classified information was revealed to the Times by what the paper described “a current and a former American official familiar with how the United States obtained the information.” Any former official familiar with that intelligence was from the Obama administration. So this leak also came from Team Obama. Even Brennan, the Obama CIA director and virulent Trump critic, admitted that Trump was not to blame and said “the real damage to national security is … what was leaked in the aftermath, what was put in the media.”
So, CNN tried to blame Trump for the loss of a Kremlin source, when it was really the Obama administration that was responsible for the catastrophic leaks that burned him — and did so by in part citing a leak that did not come from Trump at all but most likely from a former Obama official. Talk about fake news. Yet, despite all of this, CNN has not pulled its “fake news” story. Indeed, Sciutto still has it proudly pinned at the top of his Twitter feed. What a disgrace.
Erik Wemple: Did Trump’s misconduct help trigger a risky Russian spy extraction? Media outlets disagree.
Paul Waldman: A shocking CNN scoop confirms: Officials are defending our country from Trump
Erik Wemple: Give it up, Trump. CNN will outlast you.
Jennifer Rubin: Trump is undermining our intelligence eyes and ears
David Von Drehle: What does Trump see in Putin anyway?