President Trump’s tweet on Thursday nearly disrupted a key national security vote: “ ‘House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.’ This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?”
The Lawfare blog noted:
For now, let’s leave aside what would otherwise be notable about Trump’s original tweet: the lies in it. There is zero evidence that the Obama administration conducted surveillance against the Trump campaign—much less that it used Section 702 authorities to do so. To the contrary, it is inconceivable that 702 was used as the president alleges. Under normal circumstances, we would spend some time on a malicious presidential lie about the prior administration, his own intelligence community, and the men and women who serve in both. But today, that’s a secondary problem.
For present purposes, the much more urgent matter is that the president here seemed to be at least implicitly opposing reauthorization of 702—and doing so on the day the House of Representatives is to vote on the matter and when the outcome of that vote is uncertain.
Let’s not mince words here: The lapse of Section 702 surveillance capabilities, even for a short time, would constitute a full-fledged national security emergency.
In other words, it was only because the House ignored Trump entirely that it did not act in a way that would have done immense harm to our national security. (As Lawfare put it: “In other words, President Trump tweeted lies against his own intelligence community in the course of signaling opposition to a legislative priority of his own administration on a crucial national security priority at an especially delicate moment in time. Then he tried to take it back.”)
On Saturday, The Post reported:
Emergency alerts sent Saturday to Hawaiians warning of a “ballistic missile threat” were reportedly false, officials said.
Shortly after 8 a.m. local time Saturday, several alarmed Hawaii residents began posting screenshots of alerts they had received reading: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Thankfully, Trump did not take any action. But what if he had been listening to, say, a Fox News report that was inaccurate and he acted impulsively?
And what if the House had listened to him on Section 702 and put the United States in a dangerous national security spot? At that point, the Trump apologists’ claim that nothing has really gone wrong would have been inoperative. Understand that on this and a range of other issues, we are counting on Congress, allies and foreign powers to disregard what Trump is saying:
- We need Kim Jong Un to understand Trump isn’t going to destroy his country.
- We need generals to understand that a nuclear first-strike order against North Korea (or any other country) without a declaration of war from Congress would be suspect and violate norms of international law (e.g., not exhausting all alternatives, not acting in proportion to the threat, not taking a necessary action). We would need the generals to disregard that order even knowing we’d be in the thick of a constitutional crisis.
- We need Third World countries that we cajole to root out corruption and reform their political system to disregard Trump, who personifies misuse of power for personal gain. We need international entities that we support to ignore Trump’s example and follow rigorous standards to prevent self-dealing, nepotism and other corrupt practices.
- We need African nations and Haiti to disregard Trump’s obnoxious insults, Britain to ignore his most recent snub (he’s not visiting Britain because his predecessor made a real estate deal he didn’t like — and didn’t even understand?!) and Congress to disregard him in order to forge a deal to fix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy and keep the government running.
The list goes on. What is clear, however, is that Trump’s capacity to function in the job and not endanger America depends on ignoring, disregarding and containing him. In such situations, it is hard to make the case then that he’s fit to serve. The country (in addition to our democratic norms) is protected because others know he is not fit and does not speak definitively for America. This model — that nothing will go terribly wrong because others will scramble to ignore or contain his temper tantrums — is both a high-stakes gamble and a repudiation of American democracy. And that in turn speaks volumes about his apologists, who have put the country in such a precarious position rather than admit error or incur the wrath of the Trump cultists.