Reality Winner was a 26-year-old contractor with the National Security Agency when she made a decision she’d later regret: Winner copied a classified report on Russian efforts to penetrate a Florida-based voting software supplier, and she then leaked the document to The Intercept, an online news outlet.
It didn’t take long for federal officials to figure out what happened, and Winner was taken into custody soon after. Yesterday, the former contractor pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 63 months behind bars. NBC News described the sentence as “the longest ever for a federal crime involving leaks to the news media.”
This morning, Donald Trump thought it’d be a good idea to try to exploit the story for his own purposes. The president tweeted:
“Ex-NSA contractor to spend 63 months in jail over ‘classified’ information. Gee, this is ‘small potatoes’ compared to what Hillary Clinton did!
“So unfair Jeff, Double Standard.”
The reference to “Jeff,” of course, was directed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump is pressuring to use his office to target the president’s political enemies.
Much of Trump’s tweet, however, is incoherent. It’s unclear, for example, why he put the word “classified” in quotes, since Winner really did leak classified information. For that matter, the number of instances in which Hillary Clinton leaked classified information stands at zero.
Which is more than we can say about Donald Trump.
I get the feeling the president has blocked the story from his mind, but in May 2017, Trump 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, it happened, and the public has never received an explanation for why the president did what he did.
And yet, there was Trump this morning, deciding to pick a fight over leaks of classified information.
If the president really wants to have this debate, by all means, let’s have the debate.