Authority Versus Right

It is only Tuesday and President Trump has already opened another can of worms. In what is becoming a pattern of behavior, the Washington Post reported President Trump revealed to the Russian Foreign Minister, super secret US intelligence. The President’s aides (namely National Security Advisor H R McMaster) denied the Post article. “It” never happened, McMaster told a news conference. Twelve hours later, the President himself tweeted that he had in fact shown the Russian top secret classified material and as President, he had the authority and right to do so. Hmmm.

The Post report indicated that President Trump boasted about how much intelligence he receives daily and pointed to information pinpointing the where abouts of ISIS senior officials. The media speculated that the Russian could quickly figure out where the intelligence came from and most likely the methods used to obtain it. “Means and methods” have traditionally been completely “no-no” when reporting highly classified intelligence information. Hmmm.

President Trump has again conveniently conflated “authority” and “right”. Clearly the President has the authority to declassify any classified information regardless of whether declassifying is prudent or not. Once declassified, the intelligence is legally discoverable through freedom of information requests or through unauthorized “leaks”.

In other words, if the President opens Pandora’s box, what comes next will be what it will be.

In the President’s mind, apparently, authority gives him the right to act as he pleases. President Trump in essence is saying because I have the authority, I also have the right to act regardless of the consequences. IMO, Presidential actions must include reasonable diligence and consideration of consequences as well as gains to be made.

(For example, the President has the authority to use nuclear weapons.  Do you feel comfortable with the President making such a decision without a thorough discussion with senior military and intelligence officials?)

The President claims his purpose was to increase Russia’s engagement in pursuing ISIS. Sounds like a worthy objective especially if the other Country was an ally like Great Britain, France or Germany. One is left wondering when instead the Country is Russia who routinely supports interests opposed to those of the US.

President Trump has the right also to fire (remove from office) the FBI Director and under normal circumstances, the President is given wide latitude in justifying his decision. Obstruction of justice is not an accepted “right”.  Recklessly sharing secret intelligence could be a dereliction of duty.

It could also be brilliant negotiating tactic. Only subsequent events will determine.
Between dereliction and brilliance lies a sea of other possibilities. Ignorance, deceit, mistake, test, quid pro quo, gamble, and instinct to name a few.

As a one off, this release of classified information is unlikely to meet the test of impeachment, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” (Article II, Section 4).

President Trump had clear authority, but only with more information will Americans know whether the President had the right.

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