On the campaign trail as on his reality TV show, Donald Trump demonstrated a certain recklessness of speech that served him well. Audiences appreciated his blunt candor and his willingness to go off script, something they didn’t see much from the other candidates. Although accuracy and discretion were often casualties of his loose talk, it didn’t see him to hurt him much.
Even after taking the oath of office, Trump has not strayed far from his impetuous ways, whether through his Twitter account or his media interviews. But now his mouth appears to be becoming a real danger to not just him but, possibly, to the nation.
The latest example is a report from the Washington Post that Trump shared highly classified information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during their visit to the Oval Office on May 10. According to unnamed current and former U.S. officials referenced in the Post article, the information jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.
The newspaper reported that during the meeting, “Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.” He reportedly also disclosed the ISIS-held city where the source was able to obtain the intelligence. This was considered “code-word information,” which is one of the highest levels of classified information.
Then the president did something remarkable. In his Twitter response on Tuesday morning he all but confirmed that the story was true. “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump wrote.
H.R. McMaster, the president’s top security adviser, has argued that what the president disclosed was “wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged.” During a press briefing Tuesday, McMaster repeated his assertion that the president, “in no way compromised any sources or methods in the course of this conversation.” But the national security adviser refused to confirm whether the information the president shared with the Russians was highly classified and other specifics of the Post article.
This is not the only dispute this week that had at its core Trump’s recklessness of speech. A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday concerning Trump’s revised immigration restrictions. Although defense attorneys argued that the wording of the revised plan clearly shows that it is not a prohibition against the followers of any particular faith, opponents have argued that its intent was clearly established by Trump during the campaign when he called for a complete shutdown of all travel into the U.S. by Muslims. So far, the courts have ruled that Trump’s words and intent do matter and have blocked his bans from taking effect.
We don’t know whether Trump truly disclosed highly sensitive information in a moment of intemperate candor with the Russians. But given the president’s performance to date, it certainly rings true. And for the nation as a whole, that ringing should sound like an alarm. The president’s poor judgment and lack of self-control is putting people at risk.