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Within Days Of Taking Office, Trump Set The Stage For His Current Crisis

WASHINGTON ? If only White House aides had kept their mouths shut, there might never have been a scandal over what President Donald Trump said to Russian officials in the Oval Office.

But Trump?s staffers leaked to the press, and the result was an explosive story in The Washington Post describing how the president shared ?highly classified? information from an ally in the Middle East with Russia?s foreign minister and ambassador to Washington.

The repercussions were swift and severe: Republican lawmakers publicly questioned the president?s fitness for office; intelligence officials said Trump?s actions compromised national security; and longstanding allies suggested they will reconsider how much intelligence to share with American spy agencies in the future.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster defended the president at a press conference Tuesday, telling reporters that whatever Trump shared with the Russians was ?wholly appropriate.? He also claimed that the real culprits were White House aides who leaked Trump?s comments to The Washington Post. ?National security is put at risk by this leak and leaks like this,? McMaster said.

But the roots of this leak, and of The Washington Post?s bombshell report, were already visible in February, just two weeks into Trump?s presidency. That?s when HuffPost reported that Trump?s volatile behavior had created an environment that was especially conducive to leaks, both from executive agencies and from inside Trump?s own White House.

As Trump embarks on his first foreign trip as president later this week, he does so under a cloud, with a number of U.S. allies openly concerned over whether he can be trusted with sensitive information.  

One of the first stops on Trump?s tour will be Israel, which provided some of the intelligence that Trump shared with the Russians, according to a New York Times report Tuesday. By sharing Israeli intelligence with Russia, Trump effectively shared it with Iran, Russia?s close ally in the Middle East. Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy.

But Trump apparently didn?t know any of this when he spoke to Russian officials in the Oval Office. ?The president wasn?t even aware of where this information came from,? McMaster said Tuesday, and ?he wasn?t briefed on the source of information.?

Why Trump was never briefed on the source of this highly classified information is unclear ?- the origin of intelligence reports is often key to understanding them.  A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a question from HuffPost about why Trump was unaware of who provided this information.

But Trump?s ignorance might have something to do with his longstanding demand that his daily intelligence briefings be limited to a single page, and formatted in bullet points. The maximum number of bullet points per page that Trump will read is nine, a senior White House official told HuffPost.

?I?ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this,? Eliot Cohen, a member of the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, told HuffPost.

Until now, Cohen said, high-level leaks from the White House typically fell into one of two categories: either they were White House aides sabotaging one another in order to improve their own standings; or staffers trying to scuttle policy ideas that they found genuinely problematic.

But Trump?s administration has created a third category: leaks from White House staff and federal officials who are alarmed by the president?s conduct.

The idea that Trump is temperamentally ill-suited for the presidency is nothing new. It was the main argument against him during both the GOP primaries a year ago and the general election last summer and fall. At times, Trump seemed to embrace the characterization, wearing it as a badge of honor for his status as an anti-establishment ?outsider.?

But concerns that seemed merely hypothetical while Trump was on the campaign trail are now life-and-death decisions being made inside the White House.

And as long as Trump continues to shift his loyalties, experts say we haven?t seen the last big leaks coming out of the West Wing. To Cohen, who now teaches at Johns Hopkins University?s School of Advanced International Studies, the problem is not the leakers, it?s the president.

?Trump has shown very little true affection or respect for anyone on his staff outside his immediate family,? Cohen said. Therefore, he cannot expect devotion from his staff in return. ?This is what happens when you have a narcissist as president,? Cohen said.

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