Trump briefed Graham on airstrike, but kept Dems in the dark

We're moving away from the Gang of Eight reporting process and toward one in which Trump notifies a senator about national security while sharing a tee time.
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By Steve Benen

It's called the Gang of Eight. On matters of highly sensitive intelligence, eight congressional leaders -- the top two members from each chamber and the Intelligence Committees -- are supposed to receive special briefings and notifications, which are shared with no other lawmakers.

The process is more than just a courtesy between branches of government: the Gang of Eight briefings are an important oversight step, required by statute, ensuring a level of accountability on matters of national security.

For example, ahead of a U.S. airstrike targeting and killing Qassim Suleimani, a commander of Iran's military forces in the Middle East, one might expect the executive branch to notify the Gang of Eight. This week, according to Democratic members of the group, that did not happen.

Donald Trump did, however, apparently let Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) know. TPM reported this morning:

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rails against President Donald Trump for approving a fatal attack on Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani without consulting Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that he got a special early briefing while golfing with Trump in Florida.

"I was briefed about the potential operation when I was down in Florida," Graham said Friday morning on Fox and Friends. "I appreciate being brought into the orbit." [...]

Graham was spotted golfing with Trump earlier this week at the President's West Palm Beach golf club.

Or put another way, we're apparently moving away from the Gang of Eight reporting process and toward a process in which the president notifies an allied senator about national security decisions while sharing a tee time.

If this sounds at all familiar, Trump also kept the Gang of Eight in the dark on the mission targeting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader of ISIS, a few months ago. The president did alert Lindsey Graham -- who is not a member of the Gang of Eight and whose Senate responsibilities do not require notifications like these.

This isn't how any of this is supposed to work in this country, though clearly Trump doesn't care. What's less clear is what might happen in the future -- because the funny thing about norms, institutions, and respect for the rule of law is that once they're broken, they're awfully tough to piece back together.

MORE: Today's Maddowblog