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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table: President Trump asserts "absolute" power to blow spies' cover, then tucks into his McMuffins ("No, Christie, you can't eat yours here. Back to the opioids commission.")

In the latter, most gothic days of dear President Nixon's tenure, there were times stretches when I woke up wondering what the old boy might have done overnight.

It's a new experience waking now- daily- with the question, "So what did he do while I was asleep?"

Yesterday  The Washington Post published a story that said the President passed along extremely classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister and its ambassador to the US in a meeting.
President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. 
The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said. 
...It was during that meeting, officials said, that Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.
In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the president said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange. 
Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.
The President's 2nd national security advisor, Gen. H.R. McMaster, has been in bad odor with White House henchpeople spreading reports of a Second Hundred Days Staff Shakeup. 

Keen to earn some new loyalty points, McMaster rushed out yesterday to read a statement and leave, taking no questions:
There's nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false. The president and the foreign minister [Sergey Lavrov] reviewed a range of common threats to our two counties, including threats to civil aviation. At no time -- at no time -- were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of state, remember it being the same way and have said so. Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources. And I was in the room. It didn't happen.
But what McMaster did was call the entire story- almost 1000 words long- false, and then deny something that wasn't it it: "At no time -- at no time -- were intelligence sources or methods discussed."

Of course, that wasn't the problem: it was the President telling an adversarial power's top diplomats enough to allow their own intelligence services to reverse-engineer the story and easily determine the source.

The President blew the cover for a prized, one-off intelligence source because he was feeling- as he likes to say- "braggadocious."

And, of course, he blew it in a meeting attended only by one Russian state media employee as the US press corps was denied the same photo op.

As The Post noted,
It was a curious choice for a meeting that took place less than a day after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, who was leading the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russian officials.
...Also in attendance was Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States. Kislyak's presence was surprising — he's a key figure in the investigation of the Trump administration's ties to Russia. 
Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was fired after it came out that he'd met with Kislyak on several occasions but hadn't disclosed the meetings. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also recused himself from anything related to the Russia investigation after it emerged that he, as a U.S. senator, had met twice with Kislyak in July and September, interactions he did not disclose when questioned at his Senate confirmation hearing this year for the attorney general position.
The May 7 meeting- after the May 6 Comey firing- came after a personal telephone request to President Trump from President Putin on May 2.

But by the day after the meeting, the President's men were tying themselves into knots:

But during the meeting, the President was, apparently, so preoccupied with loftier aims he couldn't realize he was being punk'd. So having thought about it for a few days, he was up at 7 am today at the Tweeter:

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