One of the most damaged individuals from the various controversies surrounding President Donald Trump has been his National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster. McMaster of course replaced the most damaged individual, General Michael Flynn who is now the subject of multiple investigations. McMaster was brought in to bring professional and credibility to the position. He was an excellent choice. However, the use of McMaster to try (unsuccessfully) to deflect concerns of Trump’s disclosure of highly classified information to the Russians destroyed much of his reputation in Washington. Now, what remains of that reputation seems to be rapidly evaporating with McMaster’s dismissive “not concerned” response to a high-level advisor (Jared Kushner) reportedly asking the Russians to create a secret, secure communications line through their embassy or other location. While that allegation does not appear a criminal violation in and of itself, it would a highly disturbing addition to an already troubling story on the close relations between the Trump officials and the Russians. The former head of the NSA and CIA under Bush said that such a back channel would be both uncommon and dangerous.
We previously discussed the alarming breach of an intelligence sharing agreement with the U.K. after U.S. officials released details given to them from British intelligence on the Manchester bombing, including the identity of the bomber. Now, British police have stopped sharing information with U.S. authorities after a series of leaks to American media. In the meantime, after Trump’s rational odd denial that he mentioned Israel in his giving highly classified intelligence to the Russians, Israel has acknowledged it was indeed their intelligence and they had to implement a “fix” and “clarify” their position with the U.S. on intelligence sharing after Trump’s disclosure. Update: Trump denounced the leaking of the information. Some have noted that the statement was rather belated and others have noted that it is equally ironic (given Trump’s personal disclosure of the highly classified Israeli intelligence to the Russians). Nevertheless, Trump is right to call for the FBI to investigate the leaking of the shared intelligence.
Below 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.
There has been considerable criticism over Trump’s description of the bombing of Syria over a dinner with Chinese President Xi where he seemed to have as much recollection of the chocolate cake as he did the decision itself. (“I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We’re now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen, and President Xi was enjoying it.”) That comment now looks decidedly presidential in comparison to the comment made by his dinner mate at Mar-a-Lago, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that the bombing of Syria: “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.” Even as a joke, speaking of acts of war like they are versions of the Roman games is distasteful. Even missile strikes involve American sailors or soldiers and airman placing themselves into harm’s way. Having them referred to as “entertainment” at a conference by a wealthy Commerce Secretary to his well-heeled friends is insulting to those who must pay the price of wars.
The United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase last night in retaliation for a chemical attack blamed on the Syrian government. The Syrian government previously declared U.S. troops and military operations in its country to be an invasion of the country. With the expansion of military operations, including troops on the ground, I thought it was worth reposting the recent column on undeclared wars that have become the norm for the United States. Of course, the only thing rising faster than our military intervention is congressional hypocrisy as Democrats express outrage over the failure to secure a declaration of war or authorization. These are the same members who remained silent as President Obama routinely launched missiles at targets in a variety of nations and took this country to war in Libya without even consulting Congress. As on the filibuster issue, the Democrats frittered away any high ground years on the issue years ago.
Below is my recent column in The Hill Newspaper on the increased U.S. involvement in the fighting in Syria and Yemen. As usual, there is little concern (beyond Sen. Rand Paul) over the sending of troops into foreign conflicts without congressional approval or anything resembling a specific declaration of war. Indeed, when members insist that modern national security threats do not make specific declarations or authorizations practical, they sound much like “living constitution” advocates. Yet, we have now engaged in hundreds of military actions with only a small number of declarations and a small percentage of authorizations. As the Framers feared, war has become a continual and unilateral exercise of executive authority.
I will be again debating Berkeley Law Professor and former Bush official John Yoo on war powers. This will be our third debate on the subject and will be held in Washington, D.C. at George Washington University. The event will be held on Wednesday at noon in the Moot Court Room at the law school.