In his remarks yesterday announcing the demise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader of ISIS, Donald Trump thanked Russia before expressing his gratitude toward anyone else. “Russia treated us great,” the American president declared.
He added that he notified Russia in advance that the U.S. was “going over an area where they had a lot of firepower” but not about the purpose of the raid. “We spoke to the Russians. We told them we’re coming in. They said, ‘Thank you for telling us.’ They were very good,” Trump said, adding, “They did not know the mission but they knew we were going over an area where they had a lot of firepower.”
Key Democratic congressional leaders, however, were deliberately kept out of the loop.
President Donald Trump said he did not give many congressional leaders advance notice of the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Saturday because he was afraid of “leaks,” he told reporters at a Sunday news conference. […]
Trump said the members of Congress he informed ahead of the raid were North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, both Republicans. Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is on what is known as the “Gang of Eight” for intelligence-related matters: Senate and House leaders from both parties and the chairman and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Trump said only “very few people” were made aware of the raid, naming top officials in his administration and later Burr and Graham.
Trump kept Lindsey Graham informed – the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman is not a member of the Gang of Eight, and there was no procedural reason to brief him in advance of highly sensitive intelligence – but he kept House leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff in the dark.
It’s worth emphasizing that this isn’t just a question of discourtesy. In our system of government, a president is not supposed to share intelligence secrets exclusively with members of one party.
By way of an explanation, the president, asked if he’d informed the House Speaker, said, “No, I didn’t. I didn’t do – I didn’t do that. I wanted to make sure this kept secret. I don’t want to have men lost – and women. I don’t want to have people lost.”
Trump added, “Washington leaks like I’ve never seen before. There’s nothing – there’s no country in the world that leaks like we do. And Washington is a leaking machine. And I told my people we will not notify them until the – our great people are out.”
There are a few glaring problems with this.
First, if the White House was determined to limit the number of lawmakers aware of the mission for security reasons, it doesn’t explain why Republican members of Congress – including one GOP lawmaker outside the Gang of Eight – were notified and Democrats weren’t. This was not supposed to be a partisan exercise.
Second, given the frequency with which Trump blurts out sensitive information – including, in one instance, his decision to leak highly classified intelligence with Russians for no reason – it was kind of hilarious to hear him whine yesterday about leaks, as if others have been careless.
And third, as part of the same White House event in which he suggested Democrats might not be trustworthy to be discreet with sensitive intelligence, Donald Trump shared all kinds of operational details that he could’ve easily kept to himself, including the precise number of commando helicopters used and the route they took to the raid.
Throughout the rest of the news conference, Trump eagerly divulged operational details that would normally be reserved for expert officials to share at their discretion. The move immediately drew criticism from national security analysts who said they were alarmed by the volume of information he shared regarding the location and specifics of the nighttime raid.
Over the course of his remarks, Trump revealed that Baghdadi had been “under surveillance for a couple of weeks”; the number of helicopters involved in the mission and their time of liftoff; how special forces teams managed to penetrate the compound where Baghdadi was found; how lab technicians administered a “genius” DNA test after he killed himself by detonating a suicide vest; and which “element of the attack [U.S. forces] were most afraid of.”
A separate Politico report added, “Taken together, some of the details Trump revealed could help terrorist groups piece together new information about how U.S. counterterrorism forces gather intelligence and execute such dangerous missions, said veterans of previous operations.”
For Trump to divulge these operational details was unsettling. For him to divulge these operational details while complaining about leaks and suggesting others lacked discretion was ridiculous.