Matthew Allen (Political Editor): Wow. That’s really all I can say: Wow. I’m, of course, referring to the bombshell story reported by the Washington Post this afternoon saying that, during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, President Donald Trump revealed classified information pertaining to ISIS threats and terror plots.
Jessy Han (Legal Editor): For heaven’s sake. I was hoping for a quiet week from Washington. I’m sure all of us were sick and tired of the constant bombshells last week related to the firing of FBI Director Comey. This week could end up worse than last.
Allen: It sure could, although I’d love to see some action finally be taken here with Russia. It seems to me like even some Republicans are finally coming around. For example, Bob Corker said this, after hearing about today’s news: “To compromise a source is something that you just don’t do, that’s why we keep the information that we get from intelligence sources so close, is to prevent that from happening.”
Han: It would be great for Republicans to come around, but the Washington Post didn’t say that President Trump revealed the source of the intelligence. The White House appears to have picked up on this loophole as well, with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster saying that no “sources or methods” were discussed. I don’t know if they’re taking us for idiots, but hopefully everyone will catch on.
Allen: I hope so, as well. The White House always has an excuse for things that would, for any other politician, destroy their careers. Let’s get into the basics of what happened. Essentially, Trump met with Lavrov and Kislyak on Wednesday, and during that meeting, he divulged information about an ISIS terrorism plot that was provided by an ally in the Middle East. This classified information wasn’t even given to any of our allies, after we received it, which makes it even more shocking that it was given to one of our enemies in the region: the Russians. Also, despite the fact that what he did was, surprisingly, legal (because the President can “declassify” information at any time, and when he shared it, he essentially “declassified” it), it still is something that significantly harms our national security, and our trustworthiness among our allies.
Han: That’s exactly right. If I were a head of state of an American ally, I would think twice before sharing classified information with the United States, because I know he could potentially reveal this information to countries like Russia. This could potentially put sources on the ground in jeopardy. The Russians are not stupid. They can easily trace back the source of this information and find that person or persons on the ground. Listen, we don’t know the specifics of the ISIS terror plot, but we know that this information involves civil aviation and threats posed by laptops. We also need to know that the Russians aren’t our friends in the Middle East. They could theoretically send this intelligence to Iran, which could then forward this information to Hezbollah or other terror groups. That puts American lives at risk.
Allen: Right. You made a couple of good points there, and I’ll try to work off of both. First, the United States relies heavily on the sharing of intelligence between our allies. We benefit greatly from an intelligence agreement that we share (called the Five Eyes agreement, or FVEY) with Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom. We also vitally need intelligence from our allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, to fight terrorist groups such as ISIS. As Jessy said, these allies may, and probably will, now think twice before sharing information with us. Second, this, as you said, puts a lot of lives at risk. Our soldiers, the people who got us this information, and of course any people who could be involved in this terrorist attack (so basically any of the over 3 billion people who fly, per year).
Han: This could end up being much worse for the Trump Administration. We’ve known that ISIS is plotting to attack airliners with laptops, that’s why they’ve been banned on many flights. However, the country that provided this information clearly has specific information. The Washington Post said that they’re withholding the name of the city in ISIS territory where the intelligence originated at the urging of intelligence officials. This means this could be a real threat to the source on the ground. Also, to add to your point, the Israelis are probably thinking about this because ISIS is a big threat to their security. If they’ve been sharing information with the United States, they could completely change that policy.
Allen: Yes. The already struggling Trump Administration doesn’t need yet another thing slowing them down. And, by the way, the idea that Trump might share classified information with people who shouldn’t have it, was commonplace among those in the intelligence arena before the election. According to the Wall Street Journal, some intelligence officers refused to give him briefings on important information, because they thought he’d divulge it. It turns out they were right. What he did today is likely one of the most unprecedented gaffes in American history. He said this while bragging about the quality of our intelligence. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.” Now, the quality of our intelligence will likely decrease, as less foreign intelligence organizations trust us with their information.
Han: Let’s not overlook the fact that there weren’t just Russian government officials in the room. There was also a photographer from the Russian state news source TASS, Alexander Shcherbak, present at the meeting. I don’t know who that poor gentleman is, but his life is now at risk. ISIS could try to get to him and we know they already have a presence in Russia.
Allen: That’s true; many overlook that fact. So many lives are at risk, essentially, as a result of a very careless act by our President. I mean, I hate to beat this drum so early, but is impeachment possible? This is treasonous, is it not? It could also be considered to be a “high crime or misdemeanor”. The problem, so far, with impeachment, is that the party in the majority of both houses of Congress is the Republican Party. Many of their members weren’t convinced. And while some are still backing him, there are those who are realizing that they can’t turn their backs on national security and safety. In the House, you only need a simple majority (218–217) to impeach, but in the Senate you need a two thirds majority (67–33) to find the President guilty of impeachment.
Han: The GOP won’t budge on this issue until Trump’s approval rating hits a point of no return, like 30%. They know that they only have one shot at impeaching him. If they fail, they will be ridiculed by him and his base won’t vote for them when they come up for re-election. We need to target the Republican Senators who are up for re-election in 2022, because they will have five years to recreate themselves. At this point, I’m almost sure that the GOP would impeach him if they knew they had the votes to do it. He’s a ticking time bomb and nobody on Capitol Hill or even in the White House can control him. But for now, if a Republican brings up the issue, it’s automatic political suicide.
Allen: That’s very fair, and also a good point for the Democrats: you only have one chance at impeachment. The problem with Trump is, it just keeps getting worse and worse. One could say “let’s impeach now” and a perfectly plausible response could be “let’s wait - something worse will happen soon”. And they’d probably be right. Here’s the thing: this is a really dangerous act. This cannot be defended, and cannot be forgotten. Donald Trump put American lives, and well as the quality of our national intelligence, at risk. It may not be the best political move to start pursuing impeachment now, but it certainly is the best moral move.
Han: I agree with you. This is a major risk that Americans can’t afford to take. The lives of travelers worldwide have been put at risk thanks to what President Trump did. You’re also right about impeachment. We need to court of public opinion on our side before we act. Let me get into something else real quick. The White House communications office is clearly in a state of disarray. According to Adrian Carrasquillo of Buzzfeed News, White House staffers “put the TVs on super loud after [reporters] could hear yelling” coming from the room Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders were in.
Allen: I mean, this administration is a mess. The infighting between “the Bannon-wing” and “the Kushner-wing” has taken a back seat, recently, to the contradiction of each other in the communications area, and the blatant lying. If this weren’t so important, it’d be satirical. Spicer hiding in the bushes, Trump destroying his own staffs’ defense of a crazy move, and now this. They need to get their act together if they want any chance of getting out of this mess.
Han: I think I speak for everyone when I say I just want a quiet week.
Allen: Quietness is good. Quietness is average, and peaceful, and commonplace. This administration, so far, has been the opposite of “quiet” for the entire, almost, 116 days of its existence. This administration has become a global embarrassment. We need “quietness”, which is what we got from his predecessors. And you know what: if he wants to be more popular, and get better poll numbers, maybe he should think about taking their example.
Han: That’s right. Well, we sure will be talking about these issues for a while, so please stay tuned for more stories.
It must be noted that Reuters, Buzzfeed News, CNN, and the New York Times have independently confirmed the story with their own sources.