Six weeks ago I wrote the following:
All new administrations make mistakes and have staff who don’t work out. The pace of errors in this administration, however, is unprecedented. …
The American system of government has checked Trump’s worst impulses. He has so many bad instincts, however, that not all of them will get checked. The burn rate of his staff is extraordinarily high, and there is no evidence that his remaining acolytes really know how to govern. We are 70 days into an administration that has nearly 1,400 more days in office. Think of the screw-ups that await us.
At the hundred-day mark I suggested that perhaps the massive beclowning had been reduced to only moderate beclowning.
Then the past week happened. Let’s review!
- President Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey.
- All the White House explanations for why Trump fired Comey were eviscerated by Trump himself in his interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt.
- Trump claimed to have invented the well-known economic phrase “prime the pump.”
- Via Twitter, Trump seemed to threaten Comey if he went public, implying that he might have “tapes” of their conversations.
- Trump’s former bodyguard, Keith Schiller, accidentally revealed the secretary of defense’s private cellphone number.
- The Oval Office let in a Russian photographer who was dual-hatted as the Russian Foreign Ministry and TASS. Only through these photographs did we discover that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was at Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
It was this last piece of news that led me to form a hypothesis:
And that brings us up to yesterday when… um… hoo boy:
President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.
The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.
The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.
The White House has tried to fight back against this narrative by, well, denying things that are not in the actual story by The Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe. As the New York Times’s Matthew Rosenberg and Eric Schmitt noted in their confirmation of The Post’s story:
According to the officials, Mr. Trump discussed the contents of the intelligence, not the sources and methods used to collect it. The concern is that knowledge of the information about the Islamic State plot could allow the Russians to figure out the sources and methods.
In fact, the current official said that Mr. Trump shared granular details of the intelligence with the Russians. Among the details the president shared was the city in Syria where the ally picked up information about the plot, though Mr. Trump is not believed to have disclosed that the intelligence came from a Middle Eastern ally or precisely how it was gathered.
General McMaster did not address that in naming the city, in Islamic State-controlled territory, Mr. Trump gave Russia an important clue about the source of the information.
BuzzFeed’s Jim Dalrymple II and Jason Leopold have also confirmed the story, including this nugget.
Two US officials who were briefed on Trump’s disclosures last week confirmed to BuzzFeed News the veracity of The Washington Post report, with one noting that “it’s far worse than what has already been reported.” The official was referring to the extent of the classified intelligence information Trump disclosed to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister. …
After news of Trump’s revelations broke Monday, Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, said the White House is in a “downward spiral.”
“Obviously they’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” Corker told reporters in Washington. “And the shame of it is, there’s a really good national security team in place … but the chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think makes — it creates a worrisome environment.”
I’d like to challenge Corker’s claim of the national security team being all that good. For example, here’s Rex Tillerson leaving the State Department dazed and confused, from CNN:
The White House issued a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after the publication of a Washington Post report saying that Trump had revealed highly sensitive intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in the course of a conversation about ISIS.
The only issue: State Department officials had no idea the statement had come out, learning about it only from CNN. …
Former State Department spokesman and CNN military and diplomatic analyst John Kirby said he was “stunned” by the way the agency was blindsided.
“I think it just speaks to a level of dysfunction at the State Department, in terms of at least the communications effort that I think is truly remarkable,” Kirby said.
Somehow the hard-working staff at Lawfare managed to write a pretty comprehensive assessment of what this latest story means. The whole thing is worth reading, but this is the part that stood out to me:
Trump’s alleged screw-up with the Russians reveals yet again what we have learned many times in the last four months: The successful operation of our government assumes a minimally competent Chief Executive that we now lack. Everyone else in the executive branch can be disciplined or fired or worse when they screw up by, say, revealing classified information or lying about some important public policy issue. But the President cannot be fired; we are stuck with him for 3 1/2 more years unless he is impeached, which remains a long-shot.
The president is a vainglorious clown trying to act like a world-historical figure and revealing himself to be a bad salesman. His staff lacks both the competence and the ability to rein him in. And now he has gone from puzzling allied nations to alienating them.
After nearly four months as president, there is little evidence of growth or change from the president. There is only the beclowning. For the United States, the next few years will be nothing better than an exercise in damage control.