Lately I have been thinking that the whole “obstruction of justice” issue that we are all focusing on has allowed President Trump and his supporters to evade the larger issue: what exactly is his relationship with the Russians all about and how much is it damaging our country?
I take exception to all the comparisons with Watergate. We all know that Watergate was about covering up a break-in into Democratic party headquarters. President Richard Nixon went down because he was caught on tape saying that the CIA should block the FBI from digging further into the break-in because he knew that following the trail would lead to the Oval Office and to him.
But even now no one argues that Nixon knew about the break-in, only that he directed the cover-up. Hence, obstruction of justice and Nixon’s resignation to avoid impeachment and, likely, conviction.
The Trump story is entirely different, as Monday’s New York Times reports. It’s not just the cover-up; it’s what he was covering up. More than that it is whether or not the president of the United States is working against the interests of our country, intentionally or not, out of some bizarre fealty to Russia.
The long investigative report by David Sanger and Eric Schmitt reveals that U.S. intelligence agencies have pretty much failed in their efforts to penetrate ISIS and thereby discover what the terrorist organization is planning in order to disrupt those plans. That is because “cyberwarfare techniques, first designed for fixed targets... must be refashioned to fight terrorist groups that are becoming more adept at turning the web into a weapon.” In other words, it’s a new day and U.S. and allied intelligence agencies are having a hard time keeping up.
But there is the occasional bit of good news too. According to the Times story, Israel has somehow figured out how to break into ISIS and eavesdrop on its plans. And they are sharing the information they gather with us.
According to the Times one of our “rare successes” against ISIS came when “top Israeli cyberoperators penetrated a small cell of extremist bombmakers in Syria months ago...That was how the United States learned that the terrorist group was working to make explosives that fooled airport X-ray machines and other screening by looking exactly like batteries for laptop computers.”
The Times called the Israeli intelligence “exquisite” because it “enabled the United States to understand how the weapons could be detonated...”
The result was the ban on laptop computers, iPads and other electronic devices (larger than cell phones) from being carried on to international flights from ten countries. The ban might be extended or dropped depending on future intelligence gathered from ISIS sources.
But how will we get that intelligence, given that the hole in ISIS’s communication system that was uncovered by the Israelis could now be blocked due to the actions of President Trump.
Trump, who had pledged during his campaign to redouble the war against ISIS, instead gave it an invaluable gift when, at a May 10 Oval Office meeting, he bragged to Russia’s foreign minister and its ambassador to the United States that we know all about ISIS’s plan to take down airliners by using laptops and iPads as weapons. The Russians, of course, are close allies of Syria and Hezbollah, both of which have their own convoluted relationships with the Islamic State, ensuring that the secret Israeli intelligence op is secret no more. And all thanks to Trump.
How bad is this? Former Yale Law professor, Alan Dershowitz, had it exactly right when he told CNN that if Trump did spill the beans to the Russians, it is the “most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States.” When Dershowitz said that it was only a charge but now it has been confirmed by Trump himself.
During his visit to Israel in late May Trump responded to a reporter who asked him if he had given the Israeli intelligence to the Russians. His response: “Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel in conversation. Never mentioned it.”
That, of course, was all the confirmation anyone needed. No one had accused him of telling the Russians “I got this information from Israel.” The Russians could reverse engineer that fact for themselves. The key point was that Trump told them about the intelligence itself. A few days later he tweeted that he had the “absolute right” to share any information he chose to with the Russians. Or anyone else, one assumes.
Now imagine if former President Obama or would-be President Hillary Clinton gave our secret intelligence about our worst enemy in the world, ISIS, to the Russians. Imagine how quickly impeachment proceedings would begin. Imagine how the word “treason” would be shouted from Fox News and from other outlets as well. Imagine the shame and despair of Democrats who, as Americans, would be appalled that the candidate they supported had behaved with such, at best, recklessness and dishonor.
But, of course, the president isn’t Obama or Clinton. It’s Trump and for his supporters in Congress and his voters in the heartland, everything he does is fine. Even if it makes getting on an airplane a lot scarier than it should be, along with everything else. After all, he’s not the black guy and he’s not the woman. That’s all they need to know.