It’s scarcely over yet, this effort to grab President Donald Trump around the head for things that weren’t his fault, drag him through the mud and say, there, we’ve got him now. That seems pretty much what happened when a CNN reporter incorrectly told us Trump was responsible for our greatest spy in Russia being out of Russia. Government insiders played a role in this, too, themselves just maybe breaking the law, and you wonder if this is the new America.
This story begins with another story, one written by CNN’s national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who had previously worked in the Obama administration. His subject was a spy in Russia who had served America for a decade or more and had such close contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin that he could convey what was on the top of his desk. This Kremlin official is the person who told our own intelligence agencies that Putin had himself ordered efforts to help elect Trump president, Sciutto said. Five sources in intelligence agencies, Congress and elsewhere in government told him so by way of classified information.
The scary thing in the tale, Sciutto said, was that the CIA figured it had to sneak him out of Russia despite his incredible importance, his role over the years of letting us know what was really, truly going on behind the scenes in a county forever trying to undermine us in anyway it could. The reason was Trump’s carelessness with security secrets, according to the newsman, who told us the CIA acted in 2017 and the spy is now in the United States. As others in the know also tell us, it could take years to replace him, assuming that happens.
There’s a problem here, however: namely that the CIA decision was made in 2016 before Trump was elected president and that the rescue would have occurred then if the spy had not been so reluctant to leave his home country. This business about Trump is “simply false,” says the CIA, and The New York Times has explained that agency’s concerns were actually intense reporter scrutiny of the detailed report on Putin’s election interference.
Eventually, it was felt, the Russians would see that there was a conniver aboard their ship. If they searched enough, they’d probably come to the right conclusion and kill him. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had directed the CIA, worried aloud about CNN inaccuracy, saying he’d keep quiet except for egregious reporting that could put individuals and our nation at risk.
Other experts on intelligence gathering agree this was a hit on national security, but it’s hardly something new. From the moment Trump was elected we’ve had excessive speculation about his criminality, often through leaks themselves defined as illegal by statute and including “revelations” that weren’t up to the word’s definition. The worst of it was a two-year, multimillion dollar investigation that interfered mightily with the Trump administration in the absence of any proof of collusion with Russia. We still have unending impeachment talk even while probes in the other direction just may bite harder for some of those who have tried to overturn a legal presidential election.
None of this means Trump has never been careless with national security information, has never exhibited a brain frighteningly scattered and has never bungled a policy. But why not limit criticisms to his real screwups instead of making stuff up or at least putting aside old norms and seeing the end of his power as justifying means that threaten our democratic principles? Political bias characterized as truth-seeking is sadly playing more and more a role in some news reporting, and secret government informants are more and more betraying America.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.