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[personal profile] drwex
even if someplace as established as NPR (Morning Edition) gets them wrong.

Assuming for a moment that the Post story is correct and Trump bragged about something secret to his Russian cronies...

No, it is not actually a violation of any law I can find. It's stupid and incompetent but anyone who didn't know Trump was those things is not going to wake up now. The US President is the ultimate authority on classification levels. He can declassify things at will. There is some pushback against retroactive classification (*) but there is no higher authority on removing classification. Trump has been bleating about how he has "every right" to share this information. Nobody said you didn't have the right, Jackass. We just said it was a really dumb idea.

If it's not illegal, then what's wrong with it? From analyses I've read there are three big problems here:

  1. Trump revealed **to the Russians** information that has not been shared with our allies. Bet that makes them feel good! This is directly damaging to our relationships with those countries.

  2. The information was apparently not developed by US agencies. It was (reportedly) shared with us by a friendly other-national security agency. Longstanding tradition is that if one country shares something it gets a say in how that information is passed along. This is one of the bases of the "five eyes" intelligence-sharing agreement that was highlighted in the Snowden papers. It's also a basis for other non-five countries sharing intelligence with us and if they think Trump is going to spill stuff stupidly to the Russians then they're not going to share with us anymore. That's direct damage to the capabilities of the US intelligence system.

  3. The information apparently contains enough specificity that the Russians can backtrack its source. According to The Post this included the name of the city where the threat was detected. This is where NPR (and others) fell down. When quoting National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster people are focusing on his claim that reports are "false". It's important to read exactly what McMaster said because he's choosing his words carefully:
    At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known

    But nobody I know has said anything about military operations - that's a flat-out red herring, and most people aren't saying that Trump directly disclosed sources or methods. So technically McMaster is correct, but he's doing what spooks always do, which is muddy the waters and create plausible deniability.

  4. Now the question is whether this rises to the level of impeachable offense. In a Post op-ed, Harvard Law professor Tribe listed a number of potential grounds for impeachment. Now we have the possibility that Trump's actions amount to treason, one of the few crimes enumerated in the Constitution. Specifically "...adhering to [the United States'] Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." There's not a lot of good caselaw here, one of the reasons Congress specifically passed laws making it illegal to assist a listed terrorist organization. That law, not treason law, has been used in most of the modern "giving aid and comfort" cases. So that leaves us with impeachment.

    Both Nixon and Clinton were targeted by Articles of Impeachment introduced by hostile (other-party-controlled) Houses. To my knowledge no sitting President has ever had their own party file such Articles against them. I don't expect it to happen now. Look at how quickly Republicans closed ranks around Trump over Comey's firing, despite the blatant lies involved. Republicans won't agree on a special prosecutor or even the much weaker Select Committee that McCain keeps trying to push. People who think Trump is losing support or that the Republicans will turn on him are putting too much hope in too little substance, I think. All the signs point to him surviving this one, too.

    I still think the odds are better than 50% that he won't finish his full term, but there will have to be something really seismic to flip that switch. A major Republican loss in the '18 elections or the FBI producing an actual smoking gun would be my first two candidates right now, but I can't rule out Trump doing something so incredibly awful as to bring himself down. However, it's worth bearing in mind that all through his presidential candidacy people kept predicting that his blunders and bombast would be his downfall, yet they weren't. Experience does not lean on the side of those thinking Trump will bring himself down; thus, I expect it'll be something external.

    (*) The Progressive atom-bomb story case is a good example (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._The_Progressive,_Inc.) Although the government withdrew its appeal most observers thought they would continue to lose in their attempts to classify retroactively material that the magazine had found on library shelves and assembled.
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