President Donald Trump says he never “mentioned the word or the name Israel” during a recent conversation with top Russian diplomats.
Speaking alongside Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump was referencing revelations that he divulged classified information about an Islamic State threat in a recent meeting with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador.
U.S. officials said the information originated from Israel.
Trump says, “I never mentioned the word or the name Israel in that conversation.” But it was never alleged that Trump told the Russians that Israel was the source of the intelligence, just that he shared the information with the Russians.
Moreover, by conveying his message in Israel, he obviously confirmed that the information came from Israel.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden reacted to this forehead-slapping blunder via email:
Choice one. Say nothing.
Choice two. If FORCED to comment, say no specific sources were mentioned.
Choice three. Don’t use choice two standing next to the Israeli prime minister.
Was Trump “exhausted,” as a briefer claimed yesterday in explaining why he muffed the phrase “Islamic extremism” in his speech in Saudi Arabia? If so, we are reminded that a 70-year-old obese man with a horrible diet and refusal to exercise (except for a weekend of golf) may not have the wherewithal to make it through the rigors of the presidency. He was only a couple of days into the trip when, apparently, he couldn’t spit out his lines correctly. The alternative explanation is that he is not, as he famously said, “like, a smart person.” That realization should petrify both Americans and our allies and entice our enemies, who are probably convinced they can fool the hapless president again and again.
Trump’s error is so laughably horrible it left many observers shaking their heads. “I can’t imagine why the President would be commenting on this in a public setting on camera,” said former ambassador Eric S. Edelman. “To the extent that information was unintentionally shared in the conversations with the Russians, he will now be seen to be confirming the origin. It is just further evidence of his total lack of understanding of the uses and abuses of classified information.”
In any event, the likelihood that allies will entrust classified material to this president is diminishing daily. With regard to the issue of Russian collusion, Trump’s conduct does give support to the conclusion that he was/is a “useful idiot” — someone so vain, self-absorbed, untutored and irrational that he can be led around by the nose by the Russians. Put differently, “He thinks, and talks, like a guilty 8-year-old,” says frequent Trump critic Eliot Cohen.
Alas, the damage is real. “Trump’s comment betrays an ignorance about how other countries, especially adversaries like Russia, can figure out how we know what we know from our intelligence partners,” says Brian Katulis of the liberal Center for American Progress. “Just … sharing basic facts from hard-won intelligence collection without coordinating it with our allies can give the Russians all the clues they need to determine our sources and methods. This puts lives at risk and it could undermine the efforts to defeat ISIS and push back against Iran in the Middle East.”
One can only hope national security adviser H.R. McMaster does not damage his reputation any further by trying to explain this horrendous error. For once, Trump should have to clean up his own mess.