The latest episode in the pulp-fiction drama that is President Trump’s joust with Nancy Pelosi dropped Friday.
Pelosi’s office says she was prepared to fly commercial to Afghanistan after Trump canceled her congressional delegation Thursday, citing the government shutdown. (A day earlier, Pelosi asked to reschedule Trump’s State of the Union address for the same reason.) But the speaker’s office says that trip was ultimately scrapped because the State Department determined that Trump’s disclosure of her destination heightened security risks. It also alleges that the White House leaked her commercial travel plans.
“In the middle of the night, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service provided an updated threat assessment detailing that the president announcing this sensitive travel had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops, security, and other officials supporting the trip,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans, as well.”
The State Department report is not a public document, so we don’t know exactly what it says about Trump’s role in heightening security risks. But it’s entirely logical to think that a president revealing Pelosi’s destination would create just such a problem. These congressional delegations are closely guarded secrets, and for a reason: Officials are traveling to dangerous places. Usually, we don’t know about them until they reach their destination. Trump even invited Pelosi to fly commercial in his letter Thursday, meaning anybody seeking to do harm to her delegation would know that was a possibility.
As for the rather scandalous allegation that the White House was leaking travel details? It’s not clear what it’s based upon. Hammill told me that multiple administration sources were sharing the details with congressional reporters.
But in context, it’s entirely believable. This is a president, after all, who has regularly breached security protocols, in ways candidate Trump once cautioned against as grave threats to national security.
The most recent example comes from the New York Times, which reported this week that Trump continues to mostly use his cellphone against the advice of security experts. What’s so stunning about the new report is that he has done it despite the fact that he has been warned China and Russia are, in fact, listening in — almost the exact same threat Trump warned was so grave when it came to Clinton’s emails.
There was the time that he blurted out highly classified information about a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State during an Oval Office meeting with Russian leaders — a disclosure that officials worried could jeopardize the source and the intelligence capability used. Russia, after all, is not exactly a firm ally in the region, having long sided with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
There was the time Trump strategized about a North Korean missile launch with Japanese President Shinzo Abe out in the open at Mar-a-Lago.
There was the time the Trump White House was warned that Michael Flynn could be compromised by the Russians because he had lied about communications with its ambassador, and the White House still kept him on for more than two weeks.
There was the time Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin — a trained former KGB agent — privately for two hours with no other U.S. officials in the room. We still have no idea what was said.
And this isn’t even the first time Trump has reportedly been loose with his phone security. Reporting on this dates from last year. Politico, similar to the Times this week, reported that Trump had eschewed the Obama administration’s protocols on cellphone use
Quartz highlights a number of other things from early in Trump’s presidency that were questionable from a security standpoint. Among them were letting a Russian photographer photograph the Oval Office, keeping Michael Flynn on as national security adviser more than two weeks after being warned he might be compromised by Russia, and leaving a key in a lockbag containing classified material in the presence of people not cleared to view the information.
The White House even, at one point, inadvertently revealed that senior adviser Jared Kushner and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. were headed to Iraq before they landed, a clear security breach.
At the time, it was noted that the Taliban in 2007 launched an attack a mile from where then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney had traveled, after getting wind of his plans. Twenty people were killed.
Given that experience, you’d think the White House would guard against doing anything to preemptively reveal travel plans to that region. And you’d be wrong.