Trump’s own national security experts call Mr. Trump a national security threat and a threat to democracy. Those experts include General James Mattis, Trump’s former Secretary of Defense; Dan Coats, Trump’s former Director of National Intelligence; General H.R. McMaster, Trump’s second National Security Advisor; John Bolton, Trump’s third National Security Advisor; General John Kelly, Trump’s former Chief of Staff; Trump’s former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; and Elizabeth Nuemann, Trump’s former assistant Homeland Security Secretary for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention. A group of nearly 500 former national security leaders, including three senior officers who served under Trump, and many under other Republican Administrations, posit that because of Trump’s “disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us.”
Some have raised the red flag because of Trump’s defense of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other autocrats. Others were alarmed when he tried to mobilize U.S. troops against Americans exercising their First Amendment rights of assembly and protest. Others have decried Trump’s embrace of the KKK, Proud Boys and other extremist groups, prompting the CIA, FBI and DHS to report that right wing extremism is a greater threat to American security than ISIS or al-Qaeda. Trump’s massive $½ billion personal debt would disqualify anyone other than the President from receiving a security clearance. Trump’s failure to address existential threats like world pollution that is leading to weather extremes, and his dereliction of leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic have also spurred Republicans to speak out. Then there is Trump’s torrent of 22,000 lies. As Dan Coats said, “To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.” This is the man whose finger is on the nuclear button.
In addition to these macro issues that question Trump’s fitness to lead, there is a litany of evidence where Trump has directly undermined U.S. national security.
Trump has repeatedly leaked classified information. At a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak attended by Russian state media, Trump revealed highly classified information on the Islamic State, forcing the CIA to extract an agent because his or her life was in danger. At a closed-door fundraiser, Trump allegedly bragged to donors, using classified information, about a contretemps between U.S. troops and Russian mercenaries in Syria. As tensions escalated with North Korea, Trump conferred with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his aides within earshot of guests dining at Mar-a-Lago. Trump revealed the location of two nuclear submarines in a phone call to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. On Christmas 2018, Trump posted a video of several Seal Team Five members, revealing the team’s location and identities. Iran later attacked the base in retaliation for the U.S. killing of one of their operatives. Trump boasted to Bob Woodward in 2019 about an unknown and classified nuclear weapons systembuilt by the U.S.
The constant disregard for classified information has led U.S. intelligence agencies to withhold information from Trump, concerned that it will be leaked or compromised. Trump allegedly does not read his intelligence briefings and frequently skips them altogether.
When he receives briefings, Trump ignores them. Trump has repeatedly dismissed findings from his intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the 2016 elections. In 2017, Trump told reporters that Putin “didn’t meddle,” and called former U.S. intelligence officials “political hacks.” In 2018, at a summit in Helsinki, Trump again cast doubt on U.S. intelligence, saying Putin was “extremely strong” in his denials of 2016 interference.
Trump officials, with Trump’s blessing, repeatedly had access to classified information despite not having a security clearance authorizing them. After more than a year in office, 30 to 40 White House officials and political appointees were still operating without full security clearances, including Jared Kushner. Despite an intelligence recommendation to not grant her a security clearance, Ivanka Trump received a security clearance. By contrast, Trump revoked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan, a move seen as retaliation for the Director’s criticism of Trump’s mishandling of security matters. More than 175 former U.S. intelligence and national security officials said they were deeply concerned by Trump’s politicization of security clearances.
Despite all of the hue and cry over Hillary’s emails, even today, Trump and his associates have repeatedly used unsecured phones and email. Trump gives his unsecured mobile number to world leaders and urges them to call him directly. Trump is reported to call friends and outside advisers, including Bannon, from his unsecured personal phone. White House lawyers acknowledge that several Trump aides used private email servers for government business and failed to forward official records violating federal record-keeping law. A lawyer for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner told a Congressional committee that they used private email accounts and WhatsApp for official White House business. So does Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Trump has derided our allies and alliances. Trump has belittled the United Nations, NATO, the International Criminal Court, and the Inter-American Commission. Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords, the Iran Nuclear Deal, nuclear treaties with Russia, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Trump has weakened the bonds with our allies, attacking the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Mexico and Australia, among others, while inexplicably coddling undemocratic strongmen like Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, and bin Salman.
Trump abandoned the Kurds, our major ally in fighting ISIS. Trump ceded U.S. airbases in Syria to Russia. Trump has refused to criticize Saudi Arabia for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi or Russia’s paying bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers.
Whether its ineptitude or malice, Trump has left the United States in a significantly weaker position than when he took office. I wrote previously about how to restore U.S. global leadership. Removing the national security threat in chief from office this Tuesday is the first step.