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Editorial: Moral vacuum in presidency

  • President Donald Trump listens as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Tuesday. The White House on Tuesday defended President Donald Trump's disclosure of classified information to senior Russian officials as "wholly appropriate," as Trump tried to beat back criticism from fellow Republicans and calm international allies increasingly wary about sharing their secrets with the new president.  AP PHOTO


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bad enough that President Donald Trump is inflicting his intemperance, narcissism and lack of compassion on the nation that elected him its leader. But it’s now becoming clear that Trump’s disregard for the rules of American justice and international relations risk turning the United States into an international pariah.

News broke this week that Trump had, in a recent White House meeting with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister, revealed classified information about a suspected Islamic State plot — a move that stunned the intelligence community and may make other nations wary of sharing information in the future.

And shortly after Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James B. Comey, a memo has surfaced in which Comey documented Trump’s apparent attempt to shut down an investigation into the ties the president’s former national security adviser had — but lied about — with Russia.

How much longer can this go on? At what point will Trump worry about the disgrace he is heaping upon the American presidency? And will Congressional Republicans summon the courage to stop him?

The latest disclosures have brought only more defiant statements from the Tweeter-in-Chief. Even after his aides publicly denied reports that Trump may have betrayed an important partnership with Israel in briefing the Russians, Trump said Tuesday that he had the “absolute right” to do so.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS and terrorism,” he wrote on Twitter.

As for the Comey mess, there are signs that Republican leaders at long last are beginning to recognize that Trump’s actions may represent an effort to throw investigators off the scent of a relationship with a nation that interfered with last year’s American election and poses an ongoing threat to American and international security.

Late Tuesday, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee demanded that the FBI turn over all records of conversations between Comey and Trump. Those records could “raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the FBI, wrote Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

White House officials have offered varying explanations for why Trump fired the FBI chief, although the president said in a television interview that one of the reasons was because “this Russia thing” is a “made-up story.” In the wake of Comey’s ouster, word has emerged that Comey kept detailed records of what he saw as the president’s attempt to influence an ongoing investigation into ties between the Trump team and Russia.

On Feb. 13, Trump’s then-national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was forced out after it became clear he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about phone conversations he had with the Russian ambassador. Earlier, that deceit had led then-acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates to conclude that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

The next day, Feb. 14, Comey was in the Oval Office along with other senior national security officials to discuss terrorism threats. After the meeting ended, Trump asked all the officials to leave, except for Comey. According to a memo Comey made about the conversation, Trump then asked him to shut down the investigation into Flynn.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Comey’s memo quoted Trump as saying, according to the New York Times. “He is a good guy.”

The White House has denied the accuracy of the memo and the implication that Trump was trying to derail the probe.

“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation,” the administration said in a statement. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations.”

Despite Trump’s conversation with Comey, the investigations continue — at the FBI, under a federal grand jury in Virginia and, now, in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The truth will emerge, the chips will fall. Let’s hope that the nation can hold despite the moral vacuum that appears to shape its highest office.