Donald Trump visited the border yesterday, taking a look at new barriers that replaced old barriers, and bragging about his administration’s efforts. As Politico noted, however, the president was so enthusiastic in his boasts that the Republican had to be “gently reprimanded by his hosts in charge of construction.”
“One thing we haven’t mentioned is technology,” Trump said. “They’re wired so that we will know if somebody’s trying to break through.” He then offered the floor to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, acting head of the Army Corps, who quickly answered: “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that.”
But Trump wasn’t done.
Fortifying the wall even more, he said, was the fact that the steel wall’s beams are heat conductors. “It’s designed to absorb heat, so it’s extremely hot,” he said. “You won’t be able to touch it. You can fry an egg on that wall.”
“Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that” is one of those great phrases that’s emblematic of a larger truth. Trump, as president, is privy to the most sensitive information in the world, but he’s still a clumsy amateur lacking a filter.
Hours after the border photo-op, the Washington Post reported on an intelligence community whistleblower who was alarmed about a provocative “promise” Trump made to a foreign leader. The article added, “It raises new questions about the president’s handling of sensitive information.”
The word in that sentence that stood out for me was “new” – because my oh my have there been a lot of questions about Trump’s handling of sensitive information.
All of this comes just a few weeks after the president published a tweet about a failed Iranian launch, which included a detailed photo. As MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported, it wasn’t long before observers started wondering whether Trump had publicly released classified material.
As regular readers know, this comes up far more often than it should. It was, after all, just four months into Trump’s presidency that he welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak into the Oval Office – at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin – for a visit that was never fully explained.
It was in this meeting that Trump revealed highly classified information to his Russian guests for no apparent reason. The Washington Post reported at the time, “The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.”
The Wall Street Journal added, “According to one U.S. official, the information shared was highly sensitive and difficult to acquire and was considered extraordinarily valuable.”
In a normal White House, this story would’ve been an enormous scandal that haunted the president for the rest of his term, but in the Trump era, it was soon eclipsed by a dozen other evolving controversies. Regardless, the leak happened, and the public has never received an explanation for why the president did what he did.
The incident came on the heels of a gathering in which Trump discussed sensitive details about North Korea’s ballistic missile tests with the prime minister of Japan at a Mar-a-Lago dining area, in view of wealthy civilians/customers.
Less than a year later, Trump ignored the pleas of many U.S. officials and recklessly declassified information in the hopes of advancing a partisan scheme. All the while, the president refused to give up his unsecured smart phones, which create additional security risks.
Didn’t Trump spend a year and a half on the campaign trail complaining about Hillary Clinton being careless with sensitive intelligence?
About a month after Trump’s inauguration, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. intelligence officials were worried about the new president’s “trustworthiness” and “discretion.”
Those officials were right to be concerned.