Jen Psaki: News reports that Trump shared secret information with Russia will alarm foreign intelligence partners already anxious about his impulsive actions
If allies pull back on intelligence sharing, US won't have access to the information we rely on to keep citizens safe, she writes
Editor’s Note: Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator and spring fellow at the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, served as the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She has worked as a consultant for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Follow her: @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
As news broke on Monday evening that Donald Trump had, according to reports from the Washington Post and later the New York Times, shared code word (highly classified) intelligence with the Russian Foreign Minister during his visit to the Oval Office last week, the shock wave was felt far beyond the beltway.
When Washington wakes up on Tuesday, leaders in Middle Eastern and European capitals – and elsewhere around the world – could be hours into re-evaluating their intelligence sharing relationship with the United States.
And can you blame them?
Two former officials knowledgeable of the situation confirmed to CNN that the main points of the Post story are accurate, and if that is true, Donald Trump didn’t just violate intelligence protocols – he likely put the lives of members of the intelligence community serving an allied country at risk. People put their lives on the line to acquire the type of information President Trump reportedly shared.
It is pretty shocking. The man sitting in the Oval Office, with access to unfettered information not only from the United States, but also our “five eyes” partners – the intelligence alliance we are part of with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom – apparently cannot be trusted to keep it to himself.
For close watchers of President Trump’s relationship with the intelligence community in the United States, his disregard for the contributions of our partners, the years of work developing sources and the time spent building trust among allies may not surprising.
Even before Monday’s breaking news, anxiety abroad was palpable. Foreign officials expressed concern even during the transition about the potential for President Trump to share information with adversaries like Russia and Iran. Unease about the coziness of President Trump’s relationship with the Russians has only grown as the investigations into allegations of collusion between them have proceeded.
At best, if he shared sensitive information, Donald Trump was channeling his inner high school outcast, trying to gain approval and score cool points from the more charming bully, Sergey Lavrov (and by extension his boss, Vladimir Putin). At worst, he knowingly provided information to the foreign minister of a country that may have helped rig the election in the United States on his behalf. So far, the reporting has suggested the former – but there is more to unravel about this story, to say the least.
If our partners and allies pull back on intelligence sharing, we won’t have access to the information we rely on to keep the United States and American citizens living overseas safe. And it could take years to rebuild the kind of trust in these relationships that has allowed the United States to have productive intelligence sharing partnerships around the world in the past, under the leadership of both Democratic and Republican Presidents.
The potentially devastating impact of these revelations makes the dust-up over the Russian state-run media being allowed into the meeting between President Trump and Foreign Minister Lavrov while the American press was excluded seem, well, quaint.