Trump, recall, spent much of 2016 leading chants of “Lock her up!” because Hillary Clinton made the mistake of employing a private server for some of her official emails as secretary of state. Trump still routinely refers to the former first lady and secretary of state as “Crooked Hillary” as if she had actually committed a crime. Never mind that the Justice Department decided not to prosecute and that a lengthy State Department investigation, completed during the Trump administration, found “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”
And yet, while castigating Clinton for supposedly mishandling classified information, Trump has been engaging in far more egregious examples of the very same sin.
He began his presidency, in February 2017, by reviewing classified documents and having a highly sensitive discussion about North Korea with the Japanese prime minister not in a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) but in front of fellow diners on a packed terrace at Mar-a-Lago.
In May 2017, he revealed top-secret intelligence to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador during a meeting in the Oval Office, thereby potentially blowing a source of information about the Islamic State. In 2018, he reportedly discussed with wealthy donors at a Manhattan fundraiser the classified details of a battle between U.S. forces and Russian mercenaries in Syria.
In October of this year, Trump revealed details about the raid on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that, as NBC News noted, “were either highly classified or tactically sensitive, and their disclosure by the president made intelligence and military officials cringe.” And, according to a White House whistleblower, Trump overruled the opposition of security officials to grant top-secret security clearances to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
But all these security breaches pale by comparison with Trump’s promiscuous use of a cellphone to conduct top-secret conversations. My Post colleagues Paul Sonne, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report that “Trump has routinely communicated with his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and other individuals speaking on cellphones vulnerable to monitoring by Russian and other foreign intelligence services.”
This shocking security breach became clear from the cellphone records obtained by the House Intelligence Committee during its impeachment investigation. There are numerous calls between Giuliani and a blocked number listed as “-1” that is widely suspected to belong to Individual 1, i.e., the president of the United States. We also know, of course, that Ambassador Gordon Sondland talked with Trump on an unsecure cellphone from the middle of a restaurant in Kyiv.
The Post notes that Trump resisted the efforts of former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly to stop using a cellphone and to employ only White House landlines because he didn’t want his aides to have a log of his calls. It is hard to imagine why Trump would be so paranoid about being monitored by his own aides if he weren’t doing something very wrong — which, as we know from the impeachment proceedings, he clearly is.
Trump has now at least been persuaded to use a more secure government cellphone, but it doesn’t matter if he is routinely conversing with people like Giuliani or Sondland who are employing ordinary cellphones: The security of a call is only as good as its weakest link. It’s a sure bet that any halfway competent foreign intelligence service is monitoring the cellphones of people close to Trump such as Giuliani and Sondland — and the Russians are undoubtedly all over them with both physical and electronic surveillance when they visit Ukraine, which Giuliani is doing again this week.
According to The Post, John Sipher, former deputy chief of Russia operations at the CIA, and other sources said “that it is so likely that Russia tracked the calls of Giuliani and others that the Kremlin probably knows more now about those conversations than impeachment investigators.” This opens up the possibility that Trump, who may already be vulnerable to Russian kompromat because of his past business dealings and his campaign’s collusion with the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign, might be vulnerable to blackmail again because of his attempts to force Ukraine to intercede on his behalf in the U.S. campaign. This also gives Russia invaluable leverage it can use in its negotiations with Ukraine at a time when many Ukrainians are already worried that, as the New York Times put it, President Volodymyr Zelensky “may be too willing to make concessions to Moscow” because he has “no clear American diplomatic backing.”
The only thing more appalling than Trump’s cavalier disregard for the basic requirements of handling classified information is the complete lack of concern by his followers who were once so exercised by Clinton’s far more innocuous security lapses. They are championship hypocrites too. I never want to hear about Hillary’s emails again as long as I live.