Were Trump's revelations to the Russians criminal or just stupid? We can't rule out either

After blurting secrets to the Russians, Trump faces a NATO meeting dumbed down for his benefit. Can it get worse?

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 16, 2017 12:10PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Frederic Siarakowski/Photo montage by Salon)
(Getty/Frederic Siarakowski/Photo montage by Salon)

Back in January there was a little-noticed story among all the hubbub surrounding reports of Russian interference in the election and possible ties with the Trump campaign. YnetNews reported the following:

Donald Trump’s upcoming inauguration as the next president of the United States is causing Israeli intelligence officials to lose sleep as well. Discussions held in closed forums recently raised fears of a leakage of Israeli intelligence top-classified information, clandestine modus operandi and sources, which have been exposed to the American intelligence community over the past 15 years, to Russia — and from there to Iran.

[salon_video id="14767154"]

The following month the Wall Street Journal reported this:

US intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter . . .

These reports were received in right-wing circles as evidence of ongoing treason by the intelligence community. I recall coming across them and thinking that it seemed paranoid. It was hard to imagine that even Trump could be so dumb or craven as to give secret information to anyone, particularly to the Russian government. Sure, he had a thing for Putin and was precipitously tilting toward Russia for shallow and nonstrategic reasons, but the presidency would have to sober him up and require him to operate in a more serious manner.

Nobody in their right mind could have ever believed that within four months  Trump would unceremoniously fire the FBI director over what he admitted were concerns about the Russian investigation and then the next morning meet with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office. The meeting had been previously scheduled, but it looked terrible. It looked even worse when the American press was kept out of the meeting while representatives of Russian government media were allowed in. They posted pictures of President Trump at the meeting grinning like a jack-o'-lantern with Lavrov and a surprise guest, Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — the man at the very center of the Russia probes.

This was all so unbelievable that you had to wonder whether Trump had cooked up an elaborate trolling exercise designed to let investigators know that he was going to do whatever he wanted and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him. As it turned out, receiving Lavrov was a favor to President Vladimir Putin, the man to whom Trump just couldn't say no, as Trump told CBS' John Dickerson.

None of that could have prepared us for what The Washington Post reported yesterday: Not only did Trump do all those things listed above; he also gave the Russian ambassador classified "code-word-protected" intelligence, putting some vital resources at risk and scaring the hell out of anyone who ever shared information with the U.S. government. If it were anyone but Donald Trump and his Keystone Kop White House, one would be forced to conclude that the president of the United States is an agent of the Russian government.

But this is Donald Trump, a man in so far over his head that it's amazing he's still breathing. The most likely explanation is that he's just too ignorant to know what he was saying. By all accounts, he refuses to sit still for briefings and demands that all reports be reduced to single-page bullet points. He has shown absolutely no willingness to bone up on necessary knowledge; he lies and exaggerates constantly. and all you have to do is look at his Twitter feed to see that he is as impulsive and combative as a tween bully.

So it's entirely predictable that he shot off his mouth to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador as a boast. According to the Post he said, “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day” and proceeded to blurt some out to prove it. His warm feelings toward Russia may have been the motivation:

Those Russian officials were undoubtedly very pleased. They certainly were all smiles in the pictures. American allies and others who have cooperated with the U.S. in sharing intelligence probably weren't quite so happy about it.

This bombshell couldn't have come at a worse time. Trump is about to embark on his first international tour and it was already looking like it would be yet another humiliation for the United States. Foreign Policy reported on Monday the following about the upcoming NATO meeting:

NATO is scrambling to tailor its upcoming meeting to avoid taxing President Donald Trump’s notoriously short attention span. The alliance is telling heads of state to limit talks to two to four minutes at a time during the discussion, several sources inside NATO and former senior U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. And the alliance scrapped plans to publish the traditional full post-meeting statement meant to crystallize NATO’s latest strategic stance.

The heads of 28 NATO member states will be there and they're all anticipating a meeting tailored to a petulant child who needs to be entertained:

“Even a brief NATO summit is way too stiff, too formal, and too policy heavy for Trump. Trump is not going to like that,” said Jorge Benitez, a NATO expert with the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

Organizers are scrapping the normal declaration that accompanies such meetings because they think Trump won't be happy. You see, one of the primary reasons for NATO's existence is its adversarial relationship to Russia and we all know how Trump feels about that.

After Trump's shenanigans this past week, let's just say that it's unlikely anyone at the meeting will feel all that comfortable sharing anything but small talk with President Loose Lips. According to Foreign Policy:

“People are scared of his unpredictability, intimidated by how he might react knowing the president might speak his mind — or tweet his mind,” the former official said. Or, as another current senior NATO official put it before the meeting: “We’re bracing for impact.”

It's best to keep your seat belt fastened at all times. The turbulence grows worse every day.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton