The Washington Post story is everywhere: President Donald Trump allegedly leaked “highly classified” information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a meeting last week.
The left and the media are ecstatic: they believe they have finally produced irrefutable proof of Trump’s incompetence.
One Democratic congresswoman, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), even said: “I believe that the president is desperate for attention and needs psychological help.”
Whether Trump shared information or not, the story is less than what it seems — and the hysteria is “fake news.” The real story, as Trump later suggested, is who leaked intelligence to the Post.
Indeed, the most astonishing thing about the story is how quickly the allegations made it to press. The meeting with the Russians was only last Wednesday. The Post‘s sources in the intelligence community wasted no time in rushing their accusations to friendly journalists — and the journalists barely bothered to check if the claims were true.
Here are seven other bizarre features of the story.
1. Even the Post admits that it would not be illegal for Trump to reveal classified information. The president is the ultimate classification authority, and can declassify information if he wants to. President Barack Obama did it all the time — such as when he deliberately and publicly revealed U.S. interrogation methods, giving terrorists all the information they needed to resist.
There may have been good reasons for Trump to reveal information to the Russians in a meeting behind closed doors — if, in fact, he did so. Yet the Washington Post presumes the worst.
2. The Post cites “former U.S. officials” as a primary source for the story. What would “former U.S. officials” know about classified information allegedly discussed between a very small group of people at the top of the U.S. and Russian governments — even if, as the Post alleges, some information about that meeting was later shared through the U.S. intelligence apparatus?
The real story — the “buried lede” — may be that anti-Trump intelligence officials are leaking classified information to their political friends from former (Obama? Bush?) administrations.
3. The Post mentions former FBI Director James Comey early in the story. The Comey controversy has zero to do with the new allegations. The Post mentions him only to shoehorn one controversy into another, and to create the impression for gullible liberals that this is Trump’s quid-pro-quo in exchange for Russia’s election help in 2016. The post also tacks several other unrelated Trump controversies onto the story, as if it could not stand up on its own.
4. The leaked information was largely public. The information that Trump supposedly shared was about the use of laptop bombs on commercial flights. News reports have stated for weeks that the plot to use laptops was picked up by intelligence sources monitoring Al Qaeda in Yemen and the co-called Islamic State. CNN described the intelligence in April as drawn from a variety of sources: “[T]here was no single, overwhelming piece of intelligence that led to the ban, rather it was an accumulation of intercepted material and ‘human intelligence.'”
It is possible for information to be both public and classified — for example, a newspaper article may refer to information that the intelligence services consider to be secret — in which case the accusations against Trump are largely trivial anyway.
5. The Post exposes its sources to possible criminal liability. The authors of the story state that they possess the crucial leaked information — “the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat” about laptops on airplanes — but have decided not to share it. Presumably there are relatively few U.S. intelligence officials who would have known that information. All will now potentially be subject to investigation.
6. The Post does more to highlight classified information for the Russians than Trump possibly could have. If — for argument’s sake — one assumes the Post story is true, it is not clear that the Russians would have known that what Trump told them was “classified.” They do now — thanks to the Post calling attention to it in sensational style.
7. The Post merely shrugged when Vice President Joe Biden pointed out where the nuclear codes were. In a rally for Hillary Clinton, Biden pointed out an aide carrying the “nuclear football.” The Post reported that as if it were a good point: “Biden’s first campaign appearance on behalf of the Democratic nominee blended blue-collar outreach with stinging rebukes of Trump from a man who, Biden reminded the crowd, travels with his own copies of the nation’s nuclear weapons codes.”
When they cannot apply the same standard to both sides, that is “fake news.”
Some Democrats and journalists are comparing what Trump did to what Hillary Clinton was accused of doing when she emailed people classified information who did not have the clearance to read or possess it, and when she stored her emails on an illicit server in her home.
But what Clinton did was illegal, and we know that at least some of her emails contained information vital to national security.
Trump violated no laws whatsoever, and it is not clear that any information he may have shared was in fact as sensitive as the Washington Post‘s anonymous sources claim.
The question remains who is leaking information to damage Trump. We already know why the Post publishes it.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.