This is a bombshell for two reasons. The biggest reason is not my headline, because the true gravity of the situation cannot be communicated in a single sentence. The headline being a big deal should be obvious. If this New York Times report is true, then Trump’s entire “Witch Hunt!” routine has been done with the knowledge that he was covering for a foreign adversary who interfered in our elections. Treason is a word that gets thrown around too haphazardly these days thanks to its extraordinarily high legal barrier, but an act like that certainly seems like it would be “giving [our Enemies] Aid and Comfort.”
Now, on to the meat of this story. Anyone who has heard Trump speak for more than a minute shouldn’t be surprised that he knew about Putin’s election interference earlier than previously reported. The real story here is, well, the story. I’ll let security researcher Matt Tait—who made a cameo in this Russia ordeal with Peter Smith, the GOP operative who reached out to some Kremlin-linked hackers looking for Hillary’s deleted e-mails—help get us into why this report is actually much worse than it looks at first glance.
There is a TON of top-secret information that can be gleaned from these first two paragraphs in the report:
Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.
The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.
Texts and emails reveal the nature of how American intelligence services obtained this information. Saying they are from Russian military officers reveals how high-level the operation is, and through deductive logic, the Kremlin can figure out what areas were compromised on their end and change their behavior. They just need to trace the information provided in the Times back through their systems to find the vulnerability we exploited, and then poof—it's gone.
The second half of the second paragraph where Putin gets involved is where this really gets dark. That person's cover is either already blown or about to be blown. By using nerve agents created by the U.S.S.R. to kill Russian defectors on British soil, Vladimir Putin has sent a message to every Russian thinking of turning on him: your Western handlers cannot protect you. If whomever leaked this to the NYT didn't tell that person close to Putin that they were going to be outed, they practically sentenced them to death. Even best-case scenarios involve that source (formerly) close to Putin running for their lives for the rest of their life.
Now, there is an even darker, and more logical explanation for why all this information leaked: it was already compromised before it reached the New York Times. In fact, that makes far more sense if you assume that our intelligence agencies would not be this willing to put such an egregious amount of top-secret detail out into the public sphere in order to mildly embarrass a president who doesn't have the capability to feel shame. If this leak is a responsible one, then that means that this information was already burned. So the next question is, by whom?
I have an idea.
Remember when Trump met with Putin behind closed doors in Helsinki with no one present other than an interpreter? Remember how he still can't get his story straight as to what he actually said over those two hours? Or hell, even what he said in front of the cameras? If you think that it's crazy to assert that Trump would disclose top-secret information to the Kremlin, consider the fact that he already did (inside the freaking Oval Office!).
Saying that President Trump is under the sway of the Russians is still largely viewed as hyperbolic and unhinged, but look at who some of the chief purveyors of this theory are: former intelligence officers.
Former CIA Director John Brennan has always been a bit of a blowhard, but this is still an extraordinary tweet from someone who has seen much of the classified intelligence underlying Robert Mueller's investigation.
This caveat should always be introduced when relying on the word of former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper: he lied under oath to congress, wrongly asserting that the NSA did not spy on Americans. That said, the similar word of other former intelligence officers buttresses his credibility here.
According to this NYT report, Clapper and Brennan were in the room in January 2017 when they briefed Trump on Putin’s personal directive to interfere in the 2016 election. This was also the meeting where former FBI Director James Comey told Trump about the pee tape rumor floating around in media circles which obtained the famed dossier. The more you read this story, the more it really seems like this information was already compromised before it reached the Times, given the number of high-level people cited/implicated in the story. This portion is particularly telling:
According to nearly a dozen people who either attended the meeting with the president-elect or were later briefed on it, the four primary intelligence officials described the streams of intelligence that convinced them of Mr. Putin’s role in the election interference.
They included stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee that had been seen in Russian military intelligence networks by the British, Dutch and American intelligence services. Officers of the Russian intelligence agency formerly known as the G.R.U. had plotted with groups like WikiLeaks on how to release the email stash.
Not to mention, this section sure looks like an acknowledgement that the source close to Putin was already burned, given the level of detail coming from John Brennan’s perspective.
And ultimately, several human sources had confirmed Mr. Putin’s own role.
That included one particularly valuable source, who was considered so sensitive that Mr. Brennan had declined to refer to it in any way in the Presidential Daily Brief during the final months of the Obama administration, as the Russia investigation intensified.
Instead, to keep the information from being shared widely, Mr. Brennan sent reports from the source to Mr. Obama and a small group of top national security aides in a separate, white envelope to assure its security.
In fact, I’d even go as far to suggest that the former CIA Director was the primary source for this story. Brennan told MSNBC that his extraordinary tweet above was designed to “shake some sense” into some people around Trump, and the meat of this story relies on CIA information. Something’s seriously up, folks. People who have seen some of our most sensitive intelligence from the 2016 election are trying to tell us something. It’s time that we all finally start to listen.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.