This week saw the emergence of two remarkable charges against the president, and the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Moscow.
Secrets and Spies
On Monday the Washington Post reported that Trump had shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting at the White House. The president revealed information about an ISIS plot to blow up airplanes using bombs hidden inside laptops—information reportedly provided by Israel, whose intelligence sources may have been put at risk by Trump’s disclosure. Trump seems to have disclosed the information spontaneously, in the middle of a conversation, rather than as part of a strategy.
Top White House officials issued denials that didn’t actually challenge contention that Trump shared classified information. The next morning, Trump took to Twitter to confirm that he had, in fact, shared information with Russian officials related to terrorism and airline safety—and to insist there’s nothing wrong with that.
An Israeli intelligence officer told BuzzFeed the revelation that the president had given away information to Russia amounted to the country’s “worst fears confirmed.” Israel shares lots of intelligence with the United States that it doesn’t want to get back to Moscow—which it fears could pass it on to Iran. Numerous U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal the intelligence came from “the most valuable source of information on external plotting by Islamic State.”
Trump’s first foreign trip, which begins Friday, includes a visit to Israel, which could get awkward.
A European official told the Associated Press the affair might motivate the EU to stop sharing intelligence with the United States. U.S. intelligence officials could also begin to hold back information from Trump out of fear that he might leak it. Russian President Vladimir Putin went to bat for Trump on Wednesday, denying the U.S. commander in chief had revealed any secrets.
Standing Up for Flynn
On Tuesday, the New York Times revealed that Trump had asked Comey in February to stop investigating ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump allegedly told Comey. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Comey recorded the meeting—and all his other conversations with Trump—in a detailed memo. On Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee requested Comey appear to testify and turn over his memos.
On Wednesday night, the Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to lead the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. Trump was evidently not happy with the news and lashed out on Twitter on Thursday morning, claiming he is the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”
As the new special prosecutor was named, the Washington Post revealed that one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress told colleagues he believed Trump was on Putin’s payroll. “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said a month before Trump became the Republican nominee. (Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Republican from California who is reliably sympathetic to Russia.) According to a tape heard by Post reporters, House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately insisted everyone present keep the remark confidential.
McCarthy quickly described the comment as a joke. “It was a bad attempt at a joke,” McCarthy said. “That’s all there is to it. Nobody believes it to be true.”
Shortly after Mueller’s appointment, the New York Times revealed the Trump transition team knew Michael Flynn was under federal investigation for undeclared lobbying for Turkey before Trump appointed him national security adviser. McClatchy also reported that Flynn delayed a Pentagon plan to fight the Islamic State that was opposed by Turkey.
Although they will not say it publicly, many Republicans have started to worry about what the future holds. Politico reports:
Privately, many Republicans are plainly distressed and even panicked over what a prolonged scandal could mean for their agenda and grip on power. Some wonder if Trump will still be president next year, while others are frustrated that the White House hasn’t done more damage control. Chatter has begun about what a President Mike Pence might look like.
In the White House, the mood is gloomy. The Washington Post reports:
Some White House staffers have turned to impeachment gallows humor. Other mid-level aides have started contacting consultants, shopping their résumés. And at least one senior staffer has begun privately talking to friends about what a post-White House job would look like, according to two people close to the staffer.
Sen. John McCain dared to invoke the W-word. “I think it’s reaching the point where it’s of Watergate size and scale,” McCain told CBS contributor Bob Schieffer during a dinner Tuesday night.
Amid all the Washington commotion, Trump gave a commencement address to graduates of the Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday:
Never ever ever give up. Things will work out just fine. Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams. I guess that’s why we won? Adversity makes you stronger. Don’t give in, don’t back down, and never stop doing what you know is right. Nothing worth doing ever came easy. And the more righteous your fight, the more opposition you will face.