More Thoughts on the Post Story

President Donald Trump meets with Russian Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, in the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. At right is Russian Ambassador to USA Sergei Kislyak. President Donald Trump on Wednesday welcomed Vladimir Putin's top diplomat to the White House for Trump’s highest level face-to-face contact with a Russian government official since he took office in January. (Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, next to Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. Trump on Wednesday... U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, next to Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. Trump on Wednesday welcomed Vladimir Putin's top diplomat to the White House for Trump's highest level face-to-face contact with a Russian government official since he took office in January. (Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via AP) MORE LESS

Let me add a few additional thoughts on the WaPo blockbuster on President Trump revealing highly qualified information to the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador.

This passage looks important.

Senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout.

Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.

One of Bossert’s subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.

There are two ways to interpret that last passage. The more negative is a sort of internal cover-up of what had happened. At the same time, this sounds like possibly a reasonable remedial step to prevent furthering the damage Trump had already done. This sounds like information that people who might normally be on such a distribution wouldn’t have permission to know.

There’s also this passage.

For most anyone in government discussing such matters with an adversary would be illegal. As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.

“The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation,” said H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, who participated in the meeting. “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

The CIA declined to comment and the National Security Agency did not respond to requests for comment.

I’ve heard this referred to as McMaster suggesting that the story is overblown or that there wasn’t really a problem. That’s not my read. It’s more like a non-denial denial. It is a very precise statement meant to bound the nature and extent of the disclosure and perhaps its impact. It’s an attempt to make the best of what happened. But it doesn’t make it that good or even dispute the essence of the report. What McMaster says did not happen is something the Post story never claimed. The point of the article is that sources and methods could well be inferred or even deduced from the information Trump revealed, even if he didn’t reveal them directly.

Late Update: The White House has now released a statement from Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell which calls the Post story “false”. It’s a much more definitive denial. But I suspect it is a false denial. If the Post story were not true I do not think McMaster would have given what amounts to a non-denial denial.

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