Many Americans have feelings of shock, embarrassment or just serial cringing watching Donald Trump’s presidential tweets. But intelligence professionals have noted for months that it also provides a priceless channel of information for foreign intelligence services trying to understand the President’s state of mind. All countries diplomatic personnel and intelligence analysts devote immense time and resources to understanding the views, motivations, weaknesses and agendas of key foreign leaders. Trump’s often erratic and impulsive tweeting patterns reveals sleeping patterns, moods, what makes Trump angry, what he’s focused on, who he’s hating or cuddling up to at a given moment. In some cases, his tweets actually having geolocations turned on. So they know precisely where he was. But there’s yet another dimension to Trump’s tweeting and generally impulsive nature and it bears on the Russia investigation.
When I first started writing this post last night, this had only been caught by the Journal’s Byron Tau. Julia Ioffe later incorporated it into a revised version of her Don Jr/Wikileaks exclusive in The Atlantic. Others have noted it over the course of the day.
Here’s the gist.
On October 12, 2016, “Wikileaks” (apparently Julian Assange himself) Twitter DM’d Don Jr: “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us. There’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it. Btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4.”
Two days later Don Jr tweeted the link Assange suggested. But only 15 minutes after Assange sent his message, Donald Trump himself tweeted this.
Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2016
Could this be a coincidence? Theoretically, yes. In practice, it is almost certain that Don Jr told his dad and his dad wrote up this tweet. This came after Don Jr had asked Assange earlier in the month for information on what turned out to be the Podesta emails. Assange was not only in on-going contact with Don Jr but able to get both father and son to do things with his DMs, specifically he got them to broadcast the documents Russian intelligence operatives had stolen and given to Assange.
Bear in minds this was months after it had been widely assumed that Russia was the source of the Wikileaks emails.
This isn’t the only example of this.
On June 3rd 2016, Rob Goldstone first reached out to Don Jr with his now notorious email offering to put together a meeting to give the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. That was the email in which he noted explicitly that the offer was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
While Goldstone and Don Jr hashed out the details of the meeting, on June 7th Donald Trump told a crowd that the following week he was going to give a big speech unloading dirt on Hillary Clinton. “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting. I wonder if the press will want to attend. Who knows?”
Monday was June 13th. The speech ended up never happening. Trump gave a national security focused speech on that day. This was at least in part because the Orlando nightclub massacre had happened the day before and it seemed impolitic to give a slashing partisan speech. But the Trump Tower meeting on the 9th had turned out to be largely a bust. They didn’t get the dirt. Or at least that’s what we’re told.
The most plausible explanation of this chain of events is that the Trump campaign thought they were going to get a load of new dirt on June 9th. But it didn’t happen. Just coincidence? Maybe. But I doubt it.
We now know that there were numerous occasions on which Russians or cut-outs working for Russian intelligence were in communication with Trump campaign staffers. In numerous cases, those staffers were briefing people at the highest level of the campaign about those conversations, people who were side by side with the President for months. Papadopoulos briefed Corey Lewandowski and others. Don Jr immediately looped in Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. Did any of these men ever mention these things to Trump? Of course they did. More seasoned political operatives or foreign policy hands would have had the wisdom not to mention these things directly to the President. Staff knows to protect the principal. But more seasoned hands would have known how dangerous it was to be having these conversations at all. No one with that kind of discretion or judgment was anywhere in sight.
That’s where Trump impetuosity and transparency with his knowledge and emotions comes into play. Seeing Assange prompt a Trump tweet, via Don Jr, is I suspect only the first and clearest of many examples. Who told Trump what? In a lot of cases Trump’s tweets will likely tell us. Trump’s October 12th Wikileaks tweet was totally opaque until we found out about Don Jr’s DMs with Assange a few minutes before. Trump’s tweets are impulsive, immediate, unvarnished. They amount to realtime surveillance of what he was thinking and what he knew at key points of the campaign. They just require the fruits of the ongoing investigations to decipher what they mean.