White House's politicization of intelligence reaches new low

As one member put it, "It's hard to say the Trump admin isn't politicizing the military when only members of their party get invited to the briefing."
Image: President Trump Departs The White House En Route To Capitol For State Of The Union Address
The White House on January 30, 2018.Zach Gibson / Getty Images file

In October, as U.S. forces closed in on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader of ISIS, Donald Trump limited access to the information about the upcoming raid. The American president kept Russia and some congressional Republicans in the loop, but he excluded Democratic lawmakers and nearly everyone in the Gang of Eight.

A few months later, ahead of a U.S. airstrike that killed Qassim Suleimani, a commander of Iran's military forces in the Middle East, Trump was only willing to alert one lawmaker: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was notified while golfing with the president.

But if those earlier examples of politicizing U.S. intelligence were too subtle, this week's example was far more brazen. Politico reported yesterday:

The White House briefed eight House Republicans on intelligence that Russia offered bounties to Afghan militants who targeted U.S. troops for assassination, according to Trump administration officials and congressional sources.... Noticeably absent from the briefing, which are traditionally bipartisan affairs, were any Democrats, despite controlling [the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence Committees].

Among the eight House GOP lawmakers who received a White House briefing was Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) -- who isn't a member of the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, or Intelligence Committees, but who does lead the right-wing House Freedom Caucus.

It's against this backdrop that congressional Democrats, including the chairs of the relevant congressional committees, were kept in the dark.

As Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) put it on Twitter, "It's hard to say the Trump Administration isn't politicizing the military when only members of their party get invited to the briefing."

It may be tempting to assume that this is in keeping with norms in the nation's capital: it's a Republican White House, so administration officials are sharing information with Republican lawmakers.

Except, that's backwards: traditionally, when dealing with a controversy in which a foreign adversary is accused of paying for the murder of American troops, there'd be no reason to limit information to one party. It's a national issue, not a partisan one.

Politico's report added that the White House arranged for a separate briefing for House Democrats, which is apparently underway right now. And while that's better than the alternative of hiding the intelligence from Dems indefinitely, it still doesn't explain why non-partisan, apolitical information had to be shared first with foreign officials, then with Republicans, and then finally with House Democrats.

During recent hearings for Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, there was quite a bit of talk about depoliticizing intelligence. Team Trump now appears determined to do the opposite.