Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C.
Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

Trump again accused of mishandling info, creating security threat

The House Intelligence Committee this week released a new report on Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal, which included phone records that pointed to a familiar concern: the president continues to use unsecured telephones. That includes frequent communications with Rudy Giuliani – while the former mayor was abroad – that the Washington Post reported were “vulnerable to monitoring by Russian and other foreign intelligence services.”

The revelations raise the possibility that Moscow was able to learn about aspects of Trump’s attempt to get Ukraine to investigate a political rival months before that effort was exposed by a whistleblower report and the impeachment inquiry, officials said. […]

The disclosures provide fresh evidence suggesting that the president continues to defy the security guidance urged by his aides and followed by previous incumbents – a stance that is particularly remarkable given Trump’s attacks on Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign for her use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state.

The problem, of course, extends beyond breathtaking hypocrisy. By willfully ignoring security guidance, Trump has created a vulnerability that Russia could exploit to advance its interests over ours.

The Post spoke to John Sipher, former deputy chief of Russia operations at the CIA, who said the Republican president and his lawyer have effectively “given the Russians ammunition they can use in an overt fashion, a covert fashion or in the twisting of information.” He added that it’s so likely that Russia tracked these calls that the Kremlin probably knows more now about those conversations than impeachment investigators.

The same article noted that Trump has “absolutely” created a security issue by using lines vulnerable to interception and blowing off aides who’ve tried to steer the president in more responsible directions.

And in case that weren’t quite enough, the Post reported that after White House officials made “a concerted attempt” in 2017 to have Trump use secure White House lines, the president came to realize this meant officials such as then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly would know to whom Trump was speaking.

The president considered this unacceptable and “reverted to using his cellphone.”

And with that in mind, this seems like a good time to update my entirely subjective rundown of the most egregious examples of Trump mishandling sensitive information and creating security risks.

10. In May 2017, Trump had a chat with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in which the Republican shared information about dispatching two nuclear submarines off the coast of the Korean peninsula. By one account, Pentagon officials were “in shock” over Trump’s willingness to share such information. “We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military’s belief that keeping submarines’ movements secret is key to their mission.

9. In September 2019, during a photo-op at an event along the U.S./Mexico border, the president seemed eager to boast to reporters about detailed technological advancements in border security. It fell to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the acting head of the Army Corps, to interject, “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that.”

8. In July 2019, Trump had an unsecured conversation with U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, while the ambassador was in a Ukrainian restaurant within earshot of others, in which Trump sought information on Ukraine helping target the president’s domestic political opponents. Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior director of the White House Situation Room and a former chief of staff to the CIA director, said of the call, “The security ramifications are insane.”

7. On a related note, Trump had vulnerable conversations about his Ukraine scheme with Giuliani, creating additional security risks for Russia to exploit.

6. In February 2018, Trump ignored the pleas of many U.S. officials and recklessly declassified information from the so-called “Nunes Memo” in the hopes of advancing a partisan scheme.

5. In February 2017, 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.

4. In early October 2019, Trump publicly discussed American nuclear weapons in Turkey, something U.S. officials have traditionally avoided disclosing and/or confirming.

3. In August 2019, Trump 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 expressed concern about Trump possibly releasing classified material.

2. In October 2019, Trump needlessly blurted out all kinds of tactical and operational details about the al-Baghdadi mission.

1. Just four months into Trump’s presidency, 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.”

This list, incidentally, is not comprehensive. There are other examples.

At this point, I imagine some of the president’s detractors might suggest curtailing his access to intelligence briefings, but that’s probably an unnecessary call: by all accounts, Trump often skips his intelligence briefings anyway.