At this point, nobody has explained it better than Eliot A. Cohen, director of the Strategic Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and author of “The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.” An excerpt from his article, “The Terrible Cost of Trump’s Disclosures“at The Atlantic:
If The Washington Post is right, President Trump divulged highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at a jovial meeting in the Oval Office. Here is why this is appalling, beyond even this president’s usual standard.
There are multiple flavors of intelligence classification, from “Confidential” (which is often in the public record already, just not acknowledged), to “Secret” (usually, though not always available if you know where to look—or are willing to wait a few days), to “Top Secret” which is beginning to be serious. The codewords, which security officials began using in World War II to protect signal intercepts (e.g. ULTRA), tell you whence the information was derived—so Top Secret/codeword material really has to be protected. Any of us who have had those kinds of clearances have gone through repeated trainings about how to safeguard such material (cover sheets, multiple envelopes, proper paragraph marking, etc.). And if you hope to keep your job and stay out of jail, you take it seriously. You do not have access to any and all compartments if you have a top-secret clearance. This, apparently, is some of the information that Trump blew.
Cohen adds, further, that “In the normal course of events, Donald Trump would never have been given a high-level security clearance because of his psychological profile and personal record, including his susceptibility to blackmail.” After you wrap your head around that, note Cohen’s warning, “But it will be even worse if his behavior convinces others, including those who work for him, that classification is meaningless.”
“If Trump has indeed compromised a source of information,” writes Cohen, “it is not merely a betrayal of an ally’s trust: It is an act that will jeopardize a whole range of relationships…The Director of Central Intelligence cannot very well say, “Don’t worry, we won’t share that with the president.” So now everybody—even our closest allies like the United Kingdom—would be well-advised to be careful with what they share with us. That is a potential intelligence debacle for us, but the danger goes beyond that. If any foreign government harbored lingering illusions about the administration’s ability to protect any information, including sensitive but non-intelligence matters like future foreign-policy initiatives or military deployments, they no longer do.”
The incident “shows, yet again, how easy this man is to play, particularly by veteran manipulators like his two experienced, talented, and thuggish guests.”
Despite assurances from Trump appointees that security precautions were honored at the meeting, Cohen notes, “it seems likely that the Russians captured all of the conversation—they were allowed to bring their electronics into the room, including the only video cameras, the American press having been excluded—they undoubtedly got all of it. And you bet that their analysts are even now chuckling as they figure out what the sources were.”
Nor is Cohen comforted by Secetary of State Tillerson’s assurance on Meet the Press that ““I have to earn his confidence every day.” further,
…One does not earn Donald Trump’s confidence by calmly conveying to him some unpleasant but essential truths. Rather, one earns his confidence by truckling to him, and by lying to everyone else. Now, what Tillerson, Powell, and McMaster said are not quite lies, but they are the kind of parsed half truths that are as bad, and in some cases worse. This is how one’s reputation for veracity is infected by the virulent moral bacteria that cover Donald Trump. Friends will watch, pained and incredulous, as they realize that one simply cannot assume that anything these senior subordinates of the president say is the truth. And having stretched, manipulated, or artfully misrepresented the truth once, these officials will do it again and again. They will be particularly surprised when they learn that most people assume that as trusted subordinates of the president, they lie not as colorfully as he does, but just as routinely.
Cohen concludes with a sobering obseervation:
…the only possibly redemptive part of this wretched tale, is if it motivates some Republican legislators to take a stand against their own party and for the law and the Constitution. If Trump nominates any kind of Republican political figure, no matter what their previous record, as FBI director, they must oppose it. They should denounce his misconduct for what it is. And all of us should begin contemplating the conditions under which—not now, maybe not even a year from now—the constitutional remedies for dealing with a president utterly incapable of fulfilling his duties with elementary probity and competence will have to be implemented.
Many would say we have already reached that turning point. The window of opportunity for Republicans who want to save their party from midterm disaster is closing very fast. History will not be kind to those Republicans who dither away their party’s remaining credibility, such as it is.