Imagine for a moment that Barack Obama leaked in some unplanned and ill-considered way sensitive classified information to top Russian officials in a private Oval Office meeting. For Republicans in Congress, the only question would be when to schedule impeachment proceedings — immediately or after gathering enough pitchforks and torches to storm the White House first.
Everything about the manner in which President Donald Trump blithely shared classified information — as first reported by The Washington Post Monday night — and then how he reacted to that misstep is textbook Trump with all the hubris, the incautiousness, the amateurity and, of course, the throwing-of-underlings-under-the-bus that Americans have come to expect from their commander-in-chief. Why, we haven't seen such a damaging scenario play out in, well, days. Remember the unexpected, amateurish and ill-considered James Comey firing on May 9th, the day before his now-infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on May 10th?
That's a lot of buffoonery to pack into 48 hours. And it would be truly laughable, except that sharing classified information is rather a serious business, particularly if it compromises our relationship with another country that provided the secrets — apparently related to the potential terrorist threat posed by laptops taken on commercial flights — exposing that country to blowback or even putting operatives in peril. Oh, and let's not forget that the first instinct of the Trump White House was to prevaricate and deny that "intelligence sources or methods" or "military operations" were discussed, as National Security adviser H.R. McMaster did to reporters when the Post's article claimed nothing of the kind.
And then lo and behold, President Trump was back on Twitter this morning essentially acknowledging that he leaked secrets (sorry about that, General McMaster) but claiming that he had every right to do so and even that there was a noble purpose — "humanitarian" reasons and "plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism." Does anyone really believe he carefully weighed the cost and benefits involved before he blurted out what he'd been specifically told not to share with the Russians (as well as some allies)?
How much harm has the president actually done? We have no idea. According to reports, there has been a scramble within the intelligence community to try to get proper warning to the right people and mend diplomatic fences. Perhaps it won't prove all that consequential, or perhaps it already has been damaging but the general public will never really know because that's the cloak-and-dagger nature of intelligence gathering. But we do know one thing for sure: It's yet another frightening display that the leader of the free world has absolutely no impulse control and can't be trusted on virtually every level possible.
That's not just Democrats or liberals or the usual critics surmising this. It's the American public and more than a few Republicans on the Hill. The most memorable reaction so far from the GOP side of the aisle was heard from Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a onetime Trump adviser. "Obviously, they [the Trump administration] are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening," the senator said Monday. "The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think makes — it creates a worrisome environment."
Meanwhile, a lot of Trump allies must be wondering, did it have to be Russia? One of the favorite talking points on right-wing media is that the whole Trump-Russia connection is a fantasy concocted by the fevered minds of liberals who can't accept Hillary Clinton's defeat. Yet here President Trump is giving another inexplicable handout to emissaries of Vladimir Putin the day after essentially obstructing an FBI investigation by firing Director Comey. Republicans, including Mr. Trump, absolutely pilloried Ms. Clinton for inadequately securing her emails to the point where Russians might have hacked them. President Trump dispenses with the email problem entirely by handing the secrets over to the Russians directly without them having to lift a finger. And there are Americans who don't see a need for an independent investigation?
Let's be clear. The problem isn't that people are overreacting to Mr. Trump's misdeeds, the problem is that the president has fallen into a pattern of damaging controversy after damaging controversy that won't be fixed by conducting fewer news briefings with reporters. At this point, the administration probably needs the major executive office staff turnover that Washington has been anticipating for weeks with a new, more disciplined team capable of restraining an erratic president who has not only become his own worst enemy but a possible national security risk as well.