On Monday night, the Washington Post reported that President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting in the Oval Office last week. The intelligence, which concerned a specific ISIS plot, was said to be beyond top secret. Trump reportedly revealed where the information was collected, which could allow Russia to identify and “disrupt” the source. The U.S. ally that collected the intel did not say it could be shared with the Russians, and now they may be less willing to cooperate with the U.S. in the fight against the terrorist group.
The right-wing press was very upset about this … because they don’t think the American public ever should have found out.
Fox News did its best to make sure that Americans didn’t. USA Today notes that by 8:20 p.m. ET, CNN’s banner read “Wash Post: Trump shared highly classified info with Russians,” and MSNBC had “Dem congressman calls for impeaching Trump.” Meanwhile on Fox News:
Later in that hour, Fox News switched to the headline “McMaster: Washington Post story on Russia meeting is false.” That’s sort of true, but fails to note that the national security adviser disputed a detail that wasn’t reported by any outlet — that Trump revealed “intelligence sources or methods” — and didn’t deny that the president shared classified information.
In a Fox News panel discussion, Charles Krauthammer argued that Democrats are hypocrites because Clinton had classified emails on a private email server that theoretically could have been hacked by a foreign adversary. Krauthammer acknowledged that Trump directly sharing highly classified information with Russian officials “could be a problem,” but suggested it might have been an innocent rookie mistake:
Of all the probabilities, the idea he was acting as a Manchurian candidate feeding information to his Russian operatives and controllers is ridiculous. The only implication here is that he’s unschooled. This is his first go around with sensitive information and he might’ve slipped up. If he did, it’s not good. On the other hand, if it’s not deliberate, it’s not exactly a high crime and misdemeanor.
After dismissing the Post report as “fake news” on Twitter, Sean Hannity kicked off his show by explaining why “Comey had to go,” laying out his argument for why Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted for her emails. He concluded by describing a vast conspiracy against the president perpetrated by basically everyone except Hannity viewers:
Make no mistake. The desire by the media, the D.C. deep state swamp, Democrats, weak Establishment Republicans that never supported the president or then candidate Trump, and Never Trumpers, they’re now out there thinking they’re back in the game.
Now, in many many ways they’ve created this alliance that’s a clear and present danger to the president, I’m arguing. They smell blood in the water. They’re pushing bizarre conspiracies, not standing up for the rule of law, equal justice under the law. Very dangerous time we’re living in.
Many other right-wing outlets shrugged off Trump’s alleged leaking to the Russians, noting that even the Post acknowledges that it’s perfectly legal. (As Lawfare blog explains, there’s also no law preventing the president from tweeting out the nuclear codes, “Yet, we would all understand this degree of negligence to be a gross violation of his oath of office.”) The real concern, the conservative outlets argue, is that the “deep state” is leaking to the Post.
Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, a friend of Trump who frequently offers insights into the president’s thinking, explored this argument in a post on the site. He noted that President Trump’s conversation with Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (and an official Russian state photographer) “is itself among the most secret and classified matters our government holds — and the leak of key parts of that conversation is likely a crime.”
Ruddy then pointed out that the president can share whatever classified information he wants (as our allies just found out the hard way):
He can decide what is a classified secret. He decides what can be shared with allies, adversaries or even the public. That’s his decision – not some bureaucrat’s!
Ruddy thinks it’s probably fine that Trump shared this particular bit of information, since the Russians are fighting ISIS too (but not Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime):
Although the Russians are not allies, we do share a similar goal to wipe out ISIS. Trump has publicly expressed the hope we can work together on this goal.
He concluded by attacking the Washington Post for reporting that “President Trump himself revealed the actual source of U.S. intelligence.” The report actually said Trump revealed the city in ISIS territory where the threat was discovered, which could allow Russia to figure out who the source was — but Ruddy doesn’t think the Russians are that good at spying anyway:
It’s a very big stretch to suggest that just by revealing the city of an ISIS threat to the Russians, they or anyone else could identify the source of this intelligence.
It’s not a stretch to me – or anyone with a thinking cap on – to realize when U.S. officials leak the president’s most secret conversations they are putting our national security at serious risk.
Expect to see variations on these points in Trump’s inevitable Tuesday-morning tweet storm.