One of the most conspicuous aspects of the controversy over President Donald Trump’s sharing information with the Russians was the virtually complete silence of defenders on the Hill. Faced with yet another scandal GOP members distanced themselves from Trump. Most senators declined to support Trump’s disclosure of high sensitive Israeli intelligence. The one exception was Idaho Sen. Jim Risch. Risch made headlines in not only supporting the widely denounced disclosure of the intelligence but he called on the government to find and prosecute the person who disclosed the information.
The disclosure of Trump to the Russians has been criticized as likely jeopardizing the very life of the spy inside of the Islamic State. Yet when asked by Wolf Blitzer if it was “right thing to do,” Risch responded “Yes, Presidents have done this regularly.” That is true, presidents do declassify information when they deem it in the nation’s interest. However, the concern described in the article was that Trump was boasting and that the disclosure of the specific intelligence was not necessary to discuss the general threat of computer bombs on airlines. Indeed, the White House indicated that Trump was unaware of the source of the intelligence. Of course, one of the precepts of dealing with classified information is not to make assumptions on sources and proceed cautiously before making disclosures for this very reason. Usually a president will raise his intention to disclose classified information with his staff and particularly the country that shared the information.
While completely exonerating Trump for the disclosure, Risch called for the head of the person who caused the embarrassment: “There’s a weasel here and the weasel is not the president of the United States. It’s the traitor who disclosed these facts to the Washington Post. I wish you’d go out and interview the Washington Post and ask ‘em to disclose who that is.”
While national security employees are largely unprotected as whistleblowers, many view the leaker as exposing a serious breach in both protocol and intelligence. The casual disclosure of highly classified information can itself be a threat to national security. As noted above, the disclosure was reportedly made as part of a boast by Trump about the great intelligence that he receives. Risch later added on the PBS New Hour:
“The real story here is there’s a weasel here. They betrayed their own country, they betrayed their families and their neighbors, and when you disclose classified information … it is an act of treason. It’s unfortunate we can’t get that person identified, but he or she should be identified and treated as any treasonous person would be.”
Risch blamed “this anti-Trump fervor that the national media has, to try to make him look bad every time he turns around. This was a good act that he did, not a bad act. But there was a bad act here. Tell us who did this so we can put him in jail.”
I do not believe that this controversy is simply a result of anti-Trump forces. Experts from across the political spectrum expressed shocked over Trump’s disclosure to the Russians. Having said that, Trump has clearly alienating many in the intelligence community and the Justice Department.
Whistleblower protection laws exempt many people who work in the national security area. Nevertheless, many believe that this leaker exposed a President who was portrayed as impulsive and dangerous in his handling of intelligence. People tend to despise or lionize leakers based on their agreement with the purpose of the leak. All leakers tend to violate disclosure or classification laws. The leaker of the Pentagon Papers would also presumably be viewed as a “traitor” by Risch even though that leak is celebrated as disclosing false information on the Vietnam War.
For years, many have argued for protections to be extended to intelligence official. If this leaker believed that Trump could not be trusted with national security information, the disclosure was justified in the eyes of many.
What do you think?