Not everyone got to go along on Donald Trump’s escape-from-the-press tour. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, left behind to deal with Sunday talk, still had to answer a few questions about that meeting between Trump and Russian officials and just clear that issue right up:
Stephanopoulos: The New York Times is reporting that here's what the president said in the meeting. "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's take off." Is that what the president said?
McMaster: Well I don't remember exactly what the president said. And the notes that there apparently have I do not think are a direct transcript. But the gist of the conversation was that the president feels as if he is hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia to find areas of cooperation because this has been obviously so much in the news. And that was the intention of that portion of that conversation.
Maybe McMasters would be more certain if he had the transcript offered by Vladimir Putin? In any case, McMaster’s point is apparently that Trump felt he couldn’t cooperate with the Russians because that darn
kid FBI director was constantly getting in the way.
Stephanopoulos: Did you understand how this might look though to an average American right no? You have the President of the United States telling the Russian foreign minister, in their first meeting, that the pressure is off because he's fired the FBI director investigating Russian interference in the campaign. Does that seem appropriate to you?
McMaster: As you know, it's very difficult to take a few lines, to take a paragraph out of what are -- what appear to be notes of that meeting.
How, exactly, is more text going to make “nut job” sound better?
McMaster’s point appears to be that what Trump really meant to do was get after the Russians for supporting bad guys.
MCMASTER: [Trump] feels as if he's been unable to find areas of cooperation with Russia, even as he confronts them in key areas where they're being disruptive, like Syria for example, and the subversive activities across Europe. Their support for the—not only the Assad regime but for Iran and its activities across the Middle East.
What McMaster doesn’t explain? How Comey’s actions affected any of that. Or why Trump agreed to a meeting with Foreign Minister Lavarov and Ambassador Kislyak, by special request of Vladimir Putin, just one day after firing Comey. Or why Trump shut the US press out of that meeting while leaving Tass handy to take a few snaps of Trump laughing it up with the Russians over taking out that troublesome “nut job.”
And hey, if Trump held the meeting to “confront” the Russians, how about confronting them on the one issue that is front and center for America?
Stephanopoulos: So, did the president confront them on their interference in our election? This was their first meeting?
McMaster: Well, there already was too much that's been leaked from those meetings. And one of the things that I'm most concerned about is the confidence, the confidentiality of those kind of meetings, as you know, are extremely important. And so, I am really concerned about these kind of leaks, because it undermines everybody's trust in that kind of an environment where you can have frank, candid, and often times unconventional conversations to try to protect American interests and secure the American people.
The answer is: No, Trump didn’t confront the Russians on interference in our elections. But hey, leakers are bad. So bad.
There was one place where McMaster was absolutely consistent with his previous statements: Donald Trump’s spill of intelligence from the Israelis was spurred, in part, by Trump’s ignorance on the source.
McMaster: Well, as you know, the initial leak that came out was a leak about concerns about revealing intelligence source and methods, information that's not even part of the president's briefing.
Why would Trump’s briefing not include the crucial information that this intelligence came from an ally and was not to be shared with anyone, not even other allies? Maybe it was because of this:
A classified memo instructs intelligence analysts to keep their daily intelligence briefings with President Donald Trump short, according to Mother Jones.
The guidance recommends that analysts limit themselves to three topics, include essential facts that support their findings, and to try to keep their findings to a page. The memo also suggests that conflicting views or information should not be shared with the president in different briefings, according to the report.
So, H. R. McMaster blames Trump spilling classified information from an ally on the fact that Trump was ignorant of the source. Trump was ignorant of the source because his own staff has reduced his briefings down to “essential facts.”
There’s someone to blame for Trump’s spew of delicate information. In fact, there’s more than one someone. It’s both Donald Trump, and it’s everyone who enables him.