I read a good article on Lawfare Blog summarizing Trump’s misstep with the Russian ambassador yesterday. I have never liked Donald Trump. When people have called for impeachment, I have thought, “Maybe it would be nice to get rid of him, but on what grounds?” Trump’s most recent mistake (or perhaps the act was intentional, which is really something to think about) is actually egregious enough to warrant impeachment.
If you don’t know what happened, the Washington Post reported that Trump disclosed highly sensitive information to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister during a meeting they had yesterday. This information was so sensitive that the Post was asked not to print it by intelligence officials. Members of the Trump administration cautiously denied the truth of the Post‘s story, but they weren’t particularly convincing. For instance, H.R. McMaster said:
The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false. The president and foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation. At no time … were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not publicly known … I was in the room, it didn’t happen.
That “as reported” is an important qualifier. Any incorrect detail in the story would be sufficient for McMaster’s statement to be technically true. As Lawfare Blog points out, he also denied only that intelligence sources and methods were discussed, but he does not deny that sensitive information, the disclosure of which might harm our country’s national security interests, was disclosed.
If the story is true to a significant extent, then Trump may have violated his oath of office through gross negligence (extreme carelessness… however you want to word it), even though he didn’t do anything that is technically illegal. As the folks at Lawfare Blog put it:
Violating the oath of office does not require violating a criminal statute. If the President decided to write the nuclear codes on a sticky note on his desk and then took a photo of it and tweeted it, he would not technically have violated any criminal law–just as he hasn’t here. He has the constitutional authority to dictate that the safeguarding of nuclear materials shall be done through sticky notes in plain sight and tweeted, even the authority to declassify the codes outright. Yet, we would all understand this degree of negligence to be a gross violation of his oath of office.
Perhaps this is the beginning of the end for Trump? I really do think that this is a bigger deal than other stuff that has happened so far, as it’s the first instance of potentially impeachable conduct on Trump’s part. At the same time, he’s made it this far, so who knows how long he’ll be allowed to hold the office.