Last week, just a day after the abrupt dismissal of FBI Director James B. Comey set off the worst round of criticism Donald Trump's young presidency, the next — and perhaps even more damaging — controversy was being ignited. The Washington Post is reporting that Trump allegedly revealed highly classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during a White House meeting last Wednesday. "I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day," the Post reports Trump boasting to the visiting Russians.
Though blended in with lingering questions about the Trump campaign's possible links to Moscow, the episode reveals, above all else, a troubling picture of the president's basic competency as commander-in-chief — and could undermine Washington's relations with its allies, particularly in the fight against terrorism.
The Post quotes anonymous U.S. officials as saying that "Trump's disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State (ISIS)" and could "hinder the United States' and its allies' ability to detect future threats." National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster denied the claims yesterday and said The Washington Post"s allegations were "false," without elaborating.
The international press was quick to raise serious worries. In The Guardian, reporters Julian Borger and Sabrina Siddiqui write that "Donald Trump's Oval Office boasting to the Russians, if confirmed, could wreak its deepest and most enduring damage on vital intelligence-sharing by U.S. allies." Because of "Trump's cavalier attitude towards state secrets and his chumminess with Moscow," allies — including in the rest of the Five Eyes alliance (Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) — could refuse to share crucial intelligence with Washington, possibly resulting in lasting impacts on security and counterterrorism. "People may die, including American citizens, if fear over Trump leaking leads to refusal to share sensitive information in the future," the newspaper quotes Richard Nephew, a former NSC and state department official as saying.
A troubling picture of the president's basic competency as commander-in-chief.
In Germany, meanwhile, Süddeutsche Zeitungcalls the revelation Trump's "next Russian problem" and correspondent Thorsten Denkler writes that it could "reignite the debate" in Germany over whether the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) should continue to cooperate with the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.
Several news reports speculated that the sensitive intelligence information shared with Russia originally came from a Middle East country, and could jeopardize formal and informal intelligence-sharing agreements. In January, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Israeli intelligence officials had expressed concern in classified discussions after Trump's election that sensitive information would be leaked to Russia — and from Russia to Iran — because of Trump's close ties to the Kremlin.
It may be much too soon to say with certainty whether the claims will cause direct damage to Donald Trump, who seems to not only play, but also be judged, by a different set of rules at home. But where the crucial sharing of sensitive intelligence is concerned, the president's big mouth may have already left lasting damage in the global fight against terrorism.
*Tamar Shiloh Vidon contributed to this item.