Thursday, September 19, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried really, really hard to keep a whistleblower from telling Congress about something he did that his own appointee called a "credible and urgent" matter.

Over the last few days, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community has been attempting to inform the House Intelligence Committee about a whistleblower report that he deemed "credible and urgent." Reporting on the matter has suggested that the "urgent" concern has to do with a conversation Trump had with a foreign leader—possibly the president of Ukraine—and a "disturbing" promise that Trump extended.

As his lawyer Rudy Giuliani spectacularly demonstrated on CNN tonight, Trump has been pressuring the Ukrainian government to launch two "investigations." One was to be aimed at rehabilitating the image of his now-incarcerated campaign manager Paul Manafort, and one was intended to discredit Hunter Biden, son of Democratic candidate and former vice-president Joe Biden. Recently, and without explanation, Trump ended months of foot-dragging over a $250 million military aid package for Ukraine.

Although it is required by law, Trump's Director of National Intelligence has refused to allow the Inspector General to report to Congress about the matter.

Today, Trump weighed in on the matter via Twitter.

In other words, Trump is saying he knows better than to say inappropriate things when he's aware other people are listening in. That would, at least, explain why Trump has frequently sought out one-on-one meetings, particularly with hostile, authoritarian leaders like Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un where he might want to say "inappropriate" things.

For example, he met privately with Putin at the 2018 G20 summit, where only Putin's translator—and no American staff whatsoever—were present. At a different meeting with Putin, he confiscated his translator's notes and refused to tell his own advisors what the conversation had been about. When he met with Kim at their first summit, he demanded a block of time alone with Kim, with no American advisors accompanying him, something that horrified national security experts. (The immediate effect of that was that China found out before the United States military about Trump's agreement to unilaterally cancel joint military exercises with South Korea.)

In fact, even during the post-election transition phase, Trump was trying to establish secret backchannels to hostile foreign governments that American intelligence agencies couldn't intercept. His son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, asked Russian officials to let him use Russian communications lines—which are hardened against eavesdropping by American intelligence—so that Trump's team and Putin's could talk directly. Trump also enlisted Erik Prince, the CEO of the mercenary firm known as Blackwater, to set up a secret backchannel with the Putin regime during the transition.

That said, Trump frequently gets confused about what he is and isn't supposed to say out loud. Just yesterday, at his border fence photo op, he began speaking about sensitive details of the surveillance network built into the fence, and had to be gently pushed off the topic by a military official. Whether accidentally or on purpose, he's revealed classified information a number of times. Earlier this month, he tweeted a cell phone picture of a classified briefing on Iran that revealed technical details about U.S. surveillance capacities. He burned an Israeli intelligence asset by speaking carelessly about information shared by Israel to visiting Russian officials, and then made things worse by publicly confirming that Israel was indeed the source. He's revealed the location of American submarines—the whole purpose of which is to have their locations unknown. He let top-secret information about a terrorist attack in Britain leak while the hunt for the attacker was still underway, infuriating British officials.

Arguably, though, Trump has done more espionage damage to the United States by the things he's done intentionally. In an attempt to interfere with the Russia investigation, he ordered the partial declassification of a FISA warrant that revealed U.S. intelligence sources and methods. He tried to circumvent the usual vetting procedures to get his daughter and son-in-law security clearances they couldn't otherwise get because of lies they'd told while applying. And he kept Michael Flynn, now a convicted felon, as his intelligence chief in spite of knowing about Flynn's undisclosed ties to foreign governments including Russia.

The Inspector General who found the whistleblower's complaint "credible and urgent" is a Trump appointee. This may be significant, given the importance Trump has placed on surrounding himself with law enforcement officials who are willing to give him their personal loyalty—like Attorney General William Barr, whose Justice Department is reportedly leading efforts to protect Trump from Congress learning what the whistleblower has to say.

Trump's comments came on the same day that he filed a lawsuit against New York prosecutors, arguing that it is illegal to even investigate a sitting president, even for matters that have nothing to do with his conduct in office.


  • It's wrong for a president to use the power of his office to pressure other countries into doing his political dirty work.
  • Administrations that haven't done anything wrong don't try to silence whistleblowers.
  • The president is not above the law.