When the director of the FBI decided not to bring charges against a Presidential candidate for transmitting classified information on a private server in a way that could have allowed the information to be intercepted by the Russians or adversaries, Senator John Thune still demanded consequences:
“Secretary Clinton has demonstrated that she has no respect for the security of classified information and she should face the consequences,” Thune said [Dana Ferguson, “Thune, Rounds Call for Revocation of Clinton’s Security Clearances,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.07.07].
Senator Mike Rounds groused similarly:
“Access to classified information is a serious responsibility; at a minimum, they should not be trusted to handle this sensitive national security information in the future,” Rounds said [Ferguson, 2016.07.07].
When the FBI found evidence of more questionable transfers of classified information by the same Presidential candidate, Rep. Kristi Noem jumped in to expound on the importance of protecting classified information:
“Careless mishandling of classified information jeopardizes our national security and the safety of our troops and diplomats abroad. With significant questions remaining, further investigation is not only warranted, it is required for the public’s trust to ever be restored,” Noem said [“Source: Clinton-Related Emails Came in Weiner Investigation,” AP via KELO-TV, 2016.10.28].
Now Donald Trump has handed highly classified information directly to the Russians in the Oval Office:
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.
The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.
“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies” [Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe, “Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information to Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassdor,” Washington Post, 2017.05.15].
Before you start chanting, “Lock Him Up!” Miller and Jaffe note that the President “has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.” Of course, I’ll understand if you feel uneasy that Trump has now replaced the formal process for declassifying intel with thoughtless bragging to Russian officials.
But hey, how does Senator Thune feel about Trump’s loose lips?
“I would be concerned anytime we’re discussing sensitive subjects with the Russians,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Thune reacted after an initial briefing on the news report and said he had not reviewed details [Ed O’Keefe, “GOP Senator Says Trump Administration ‘in a Downward Spiral’ After Intel Disclosure,” Chicago Tribune, 2017.05.15].
Concerned—that’s a notable step down from consequences.
Senator Rounds declared three months ago that we need to get tough with a “confrontational” Russia. Rounds is apparently still digging for “share classified intel” in any thesaurus entry for “get tough.” Rep. Noem said in February she hadn’t seen any evidence that the Trump Administration “has been influenced by Russian authorities or those within the Russian government” but said she’d “continuously watch… to see if real evidence comes forward.” She has not yet commented on this real evidence that has come forward.
Related: Thune and Rounds are among 27 Senators who, by FiveThirtyEight.com’s count, have voted 100% so far with Trump. Noem is only at 96.6%, having voted against Trump on one major bill, the appropriations bill for the rest of this fiscal year.
Also Related: The Washington Post reminds us of what Donald Trump said on the campaign trail:
Greenville, N.C., September: “This is really, if we bring it up, this is like Watergate, only it’s worse, because here our foreign enemies were in a position to hack our most sensitive national security secrets. We can’t have someone in the Oval Office who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘confidential.’ ” [Donald Trump, quoted in Philip Bump, “On the Campaign Trail, Trump Was Very Worried About Revealing America’s Secrets,” Washington Post, 2017.05.15]
And why not argue for impeachment—from Republican Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, last September:
“She betrayed her country by exposing national security information to risk by our adversaries. That is a criminal offense. That makes it an impeachable offense. She probably has committed an impeachable offense, therefore she probably should be impeached. But in all likelihood she won’t be because Congress doesn’t have the political will to do so,” Brooks told AL.com in a phone interview Friday. “Looking at it from a strictly legal standpoint, Hillary Clinton has, in my opinion, committed a high crime or misdemeanor or treason, which is the constitutional standard. Which, under those circumstances, she probably should be impeached if she’s elected president. But at the same time, impeachment is a political matter, and I don’t see based on my observations of this Congress … I don’t see it happening” [Howard Koplowitz, “Mo Brooks: Hillary Clinton Should Be Impeached if Elected, but Congress Lacks Political Will,” AL.com, 2016.09.09].
And remember, Brooks made that argument based solely on exposing information to the risk of leakage, not actually recklessly handing over the information directly to a foreign power.
Update 07:13 CDT: Donald Trump says he has an “absolute right” to tell the Russians classified information… but the Russians say the story that Trump told them secrets is fake.