The Russian Disclosure: Trump’s Game of Truth or Dare

donald_trump_president-elect_portrait_croppedBelow is my column in USA Today on President Donald Trump’s disclosure of highly classified information to the Russians in his controversial meeting after the firing of James Comey.  While the Administration issued a series of categorical denials of the underlying stories as “false,” the next day it appeared to acknowledge that Trump did in fact reveal the information.  As discussed below, it was a wise decision not to repeat the initially misleading statements to Congress.  The intelligence was reportedly generated by Israel, which did not give permission to the President to make the disclosure to the Russians.  Since the New York Times and Washington Post did not say that Trump released “sources and methods,” it now appears that the White House is not claiming that the stories were false.  It is the latest example of denials from the White House which then lead to embarrassing reversals over the course of the coverage.  The only good sign is that the White House saw that the false account was raising serious problems and reversed course the next morning. However, the familiar pattern has taken its toll on the Hill where members were conspicuously absent this time in defending the President.

440px-Potsdam_conference_1945-8At Potsdam, on July 24, 1945, Harry Truman revealed one of the most classified secrets of the United States government to Russian Dictator Joseph Stalin: the existence of the atomic bomb. Truman decided that it was in the national interest to make the disclosure and was reportedly disappointed when Stalin seemed entirely unimpressed. The Stalin shrug was due to the fact that the Russians already knew about the bomb due to spies in our atomic program. Like Truman, Trump has the authority to reveal classified information when he deems it to be in the national interest. Hopefully, it is not done to impress the Russian guys in some chest thumping moment but the motive is not relevant to the inherent power.

In what could prove to be the boast heard around the world, The Washington Post reported that, in the controversial meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, President Donald Trump revealed highly sensitive intelligence related to the Islamic State. According to the report, the disclosure came in the midst a Trump boast about the unbelievable intelligence he has seen. Yet, it is not the disclosure that is so dangerous for the administration.

Trump tweeted the next morning that “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”  He is right about the right to do so. However, he also has a power to do any number of things from launching an attack on Luxemburg to sharing the launch codes with Putin on his birthday next month.

As a legal matter, it is not the disclosure that is so dangerous for the administration. Any blow, if it comes, would be the result of the official denial of the disclosure. Washington is full of people who dwell in that damp, musky space between truth and lies. This scandal has now entered the area most feared in the Beltway where there is little room for pivots. Either the media is lying or the White House is lying. It is type of zero sum game that is normally avoided in Washington like the plague (and the truth).

While the denials issued by the senior staff of the White House were carefully parsed, the statements were coupled with what sounded like categorical denials of the stories. The problem for either the media or the White House is that the truth can be proven just as conclusively. The New York Times and Washington Post are reporting that information was circulated on the meeting and agencies notified of the breach of classified information. Find the paper trail and we will find the truth.

Sergey_Ivanovich_Kislyak_2016After all of the Trump controversies, few would have imagined that we would have a defining battle over some meet and greet at the White House. Yet, for Republicans, this Russian meeting was been a cascading scandal that has grown worse by the hour. First, many felt that things could not get worse after Trump inexplicably met with the very Russian – Kislyak – at the heart of the Russian influence scandal on the day after he fired FBI Director James Comey. The world was debating whether Trump (who publicly denounced the Russian investigation) had canned Comey to try to curtail the investigation. The next morning, American woke to pictures of Trump laughing in the Oval Office with Lavrov and Kislyak. It was akin to Bill Clinton holding a pool party for female interns the day after the Lewinsky story broke.

Then Politico reported that the meeting occurred at the request of Vladimir Putin and the Russians released the photographs without notice to the White House – sending the administration into another tailspin.

Now, of course, it could be far, far worse.

The White House tried to tie off the story with denials from multiple sources including from the national security adviser. However, many have noted that the denials conspicuously referenced things like “sources and methods” that were not in the original Washington Post story. as opposed to the disclosure of classified information which was. White House staffers further fueled speculation by taking no questions after  their statements.

Like Truman, Trump is not in legal jeopardy if he revealed classified information in the meeting. Moreover, prior administrations, including the Obama administration, have revealed classified information. Mistakes can happen. That is why the disclosure itself is not the central problem. The problem is if, to avoid another political embarrassment, the White House issued false statements denying the entirety of these stories.

Of course, if these stories are untrue, Trump has conclusive proof of how fake news is being knowingly manufactured by the mainstream press. Now, the matter could not be clearer: someone is lying.

The clear import of the statements from the White House is that The Washington Post and news organizations such as The New York Times and Reuters which have independently confirmed the Post’s story are categorically wrong in their reporting. Misleading the public and Congress can be a serious breach for a president as evidenced in both the Clinton and Nixon impeachments.

The administration must brief Congress on any security breaches of this kind, which can magnify legal problems with false statements to Congress.  As shown in the Iran-Contra scandal, false statements (even unsworn statements) to Congress can be a crime.

440px-Comey-FBI-PortraitNational security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters outside the White House that the “story that came out tonight as reported is false.”  Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell was equally categorical and said “This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”

Most people would not view that as a spin. That is a denial. The danger line for the White House is when incompetency becomes dishonesty.  Incompetency can be forgiven in an administration. Indeed, some administrations have made it a virtual signature.  Dishonesty is rarely forgiven, particularly on the subject of national security. We will now find out which institution has failed the public: the media or the White House.  It is like a game truth or dare in Washington and the stakes could not be higher.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

45 thoughts on “The Russian Disclosure: Trump’s Game of Truth or Dare”

  1. Good article. “The danger line for the White House is when incompetency becomes dishonesty.” What a simple and perfect statement of the issue. Everyone makes mistakes, but elected officials should be able to face them head on.

    There are those who say all politicians lie, and “shrug” it off for self-interest. How can anyone accept anything other than objective truth from government in a civilized society?

  2. The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.

    Eric Schmidt

  3. One person wrote that it was very indicative of the current state of this nation that Congress wants nothing to do with the transcript Putin offered. I am saddened by all of what is going on. Due to the lack of integrity by the MSM or Trump there is no evidence of what went on. So far, it is all just speculation. I can’t imagine why Congress would not want to see the transcript and I hope it is leaked to the public.

    I am sick of anonymous sources trying to provoke war with Russia. If the WaPo and NYTimes want one shred of credibility they need to start backing up their statements with documents. They have done nothing except try to create wars for years. They are one of the groups (the MSM) responsible for causing so much evil in the world. Their actions are shameful.

    Russia simply isn’t the threat to the US that the MSM pushes in their narrative. I want Trump to talk with Russia. I want the US to get out of the war business. “Terrorism” is used to abridge the rights of our citizens and used as an excuse for war around the planet. Trump is a war monger/criminal and as such he deserves condemnation. However, it appears the MSM loves a good war. They don’t condemn him for war crimes, just not for starting a war with Russia.

    It’s all sickening.

  4. Not sure this guy can survive for 4.

    I AM sure I don’t care one way or the other.

    Still glad Hillary isn’t in.

  5. I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact the President has the constitutional authority to share any information he deems necessary for national security purposes, and he is being pilloried for it. Yet “unnamed sources” leak this information to the press and there is no mention of the damage they are doing or the fact they put our national security at risk, along with our allies. And the concern is who is whether the Trump administration telling the truth? I’ve seen this immoral outrage before but in a different context. PP members are caught on video detailing the selling of body parts of aborted babies (some born alive) and the Left’s outrage is over the legality of the undercover video.

    1. if you want revolt because some Trump associates are found guilty of espionage go for it.

  6. What is so complicated here? Trump has been told repeatedly that he can not have improved relations with Russia. Period.

    Obama understood this and was willing to pile up sanctions after sanctions on Russia. Obama pointed out to the world that Russia WANTS war. How else, Obama explained logically, can you explain why Russia put its country so close to our military installations?

    So Obama could lie to the public about giving intelligence to Russia or who ever he wanted to give it to.

    Not because he was a Demorat – ninny. For all the tribal paranoids, this has nothing to do with D or R. George Bush got the same deference.

    Because Obama, like Bush, played ball with the deep state. If Trump would just learn to behave, all this would become background noise again and then go away.

    Then Trump could have Assange and Snowden shot, as all leakers should be, for all the leaks that exonerated Trump.

  7. You would think as President you would not have to look over your shoulder in the event someone is waiting to snag you.
    Obama never went through this.

    The leaks are the problem. Obama, according to the Washington Post in 2016; shared intelligence with Russia regarding Syria.

    The Washington Post and the NY Times hate Republicans and will do everything to bring them down.

    1. Trump should have cut his financial ties to the Russian mobsters. He probably owes them too much to do that. Mueller will get the financial records and Trump knows the gig is up and so do the crooked Kushners.

  8. But underlying all of this [allegations about Trump, Flynn etc., and Russia] , and all the furor, is a fundamental assumption. It’s a term that’s used constantly in the media and by the various political pundits on the media, which is “Russia is our adversary.” You have to basically assume that the adversary, Russia, has an antagonistic relationship with the United States, and then underneath all of that, then you have Flynn and Comey investigation and so on. Because if Russia isn’t the great adversary, then it’s unlikely there’d be such a to-do about all of this.


    PAUL JAY: Okay, so every day another storm, another drama. First of all, what do you make of … Maybe the most interesting thing in all of this Comey thing today isn’t Trump asking him to stop the investigation; that’s not a great shocker. The more interesting thing is somebody at the FBI who has access to the Comey memo reads it to a journalist at the New York Times. [*****]There’s a lot of people out to get Trump here.[******]

    1. If Russia had been our bestest friend and ally, after the knowledge that they undermined our election process….would that put this in a different light for you?

      1. “If Russia had been our bestest friend and ally, after the knowledge that they undermined our election process…”

        Remind me again how Russia undermined our election process? Oh that’s right, they are believed to be the Wikileaks source. If that were true, then they would be better friends to this country than our own MSM. How else was the DNC and Clinton’s corruption ever going to see the light of day?

  9. If this were Obama this would be page 14. He gave Russia intelligence on ISIS and blurted out highly classified info on intelligence gathered in the Bin Laden raid. Barely a peep from the MSM.

    1. Aye. The contrived nature of these stories rankles.

  10. This was intelligence gathered from Israel and the Israeli Ambassador said they are fine w/ the disclosure. So, there’s that. Comey hating, Israel hating Dems are now lovers of both.

    1. Old loose lips sinks ships did exactly what the Israelis predicted he might do and they are not okay with it.

      1. Joe, as The Who asked in their song, “Who the f@ck are you?”

        I’ll listen to Ron Dermer, Israeli Ambassador to the US who said yesterday: “Israel has full confidence in our intelligence sharing w/ the US and look forward to DEEPENING that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump.”

        Now do something useful and make me a sandwich, Joey.

  11. WaPo & NYTimes: “Mr. Trump, Have you or have you not, stopped beating your wife!”

      1. Joe – I think Flynn failed to register as a lobbyist, but others have failed before him and not gone to jail. Lying to the VP is NOT a crime. So far I do not see anything that Trump is guilty of except winning the election.

  12. Today I’m watching a video clip. Movie “Deer Hunter”. The Russian roulette scene. I dare you!

  13. “Dishonesty is rarely forgiven, particularly on the subject of national security.”

    Demonstrably false: Obama.
    I surmise that dishonesty is rarely forgiven of republicans, but is positively laudable in democrats. I also surmise that when, as with Obama, both the WH and the Media lied (failed) to the public, that democrats and their sycophants suffer no meaningful consequences. Someone did go to jail over Benghazi for example – the internet movie-maker. Thus the corollary is that someone has to pay for the dishonesty of democrats – just not themselves.

  14. Wake me when Trump’s admin intentionally gives a loaded gun to a Mexican drug lord’s lackey, who subsequently shoots and kills a border patrol guard with the same gun. Even if Trump’s admin does such, Jesus Obama got away with the above activity.

    That said…..Trump better get back on track Re. helping the middle class like he promised, or he’s one and done if doesn’t get himself impeached.

    1. Ideally, our president (any president) is our front man, and not a puppet front for anybody. Not for the Congress, not for the Party, but for us all. He may seek “advice or consent,” but in the end he is (or should be) the Man. I am far more comfortable when he talks to anyone and everyone (Reagan and Gorbachev in Iceland comes to mind), which is his job and prerogative, whether it’s Netanyahu or Putin, then put on the cardboard uniform of Commander in Chief and fight winless wars,

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