JOHN BRUMMETT: The rush to outrage

Donald Trump is surely the right president for the digital era.

A print columnist, by being read tomorrow on what he writes today, will routinely stay a couple of scandals or outrages behind.

Here was the situation Tuesday afternoon: The operative scandal, as reported by the Washington Post, was that Trump, during a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, had revealed previously classified information about our nation's knowledge of an ISIS scheme based on laptops on airplanes.

The piece revealed Trump as reckless, uninformed, unstudied, ego-maniacal, destructive and childish. But it did not appear to present an impeachable offense.

But here was the situation a couple of hours later: The New York Times was reporting that ousted FBI director James Comey had written a contemporaneous note in February about a private meeting he'd just had with Trump at Trump's behest in which Trump asked that the bureau drop an investigation of the alleged Russian ties of just-resigned national security adviser Mike Flynn.

Two things about the Times piece: It seemed not quite ripe for publication. The reporter had not actually seen Comey's memo. He reported merely having had a portion of it read to him over the telephone by a friend of Comey assuring him of its authenticity.

That doesn't seem good enough to bring down a president, which is what the allegation, if borne out, should do.

That's because the second thing about the Times piece is that it describes a president attempting to obstruct justice--a crime--by prevailing on an FBI director whom he would fire three months later when the investigation he wanted abandoned was proceeding apace.

The Times editors explained that the reporter's source was known to the editors and trusted to the point of comfort in the memo's authenticity.

I don't doubt that. But I think rushing to publication is a fact of life of our new digital frontier in news. It also perhaps reflects an abiding interest by the Times in trumping--forgive the word--the Post scoop about the Russian meeting.

Insufficiently locked down or not, the Times piece will set off a series of events that will lock it down inevitably. Even a Republican, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jacob Chaffetz, said that, based on the article, he would subpoena from the FBI all of Comey's relevant correspondence.

Surely now even Republicans will step up the seriousness and independence of investigations of the full array of Trump-Russia allegations.

Or maybe not.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking from inside Trump's hip pocket, said he wanted to get to the bottom of it. But by "it," he meant why Comey, if criminally accosted by the president in February, didn't tell somebody at the time.

For the record, it is common for official FBI personnel, when having an interaction relevant to an investigation on which they're working, to make a written record of that communication for possible use later should a need arise. And it is common for such memoranda to be accepted as admissible evidence in court.

Oh, and one other thing: Comey's memo also said--reportedly--that Trump told him he wished the FBI would bring charges against reporters revealing secrets from unidentified sources.

In a saner pre-Trump word, that would have been the lead item, not the postscript.

Meantime, don't forget the old scandal, the one from two days before on Trump's indiscreet motor-mouthing in a meeting with the Russians.

There are three views of that and the first two are wrong.

The partisan left-wing view is that this incident is plain treason and certain proof that Trump is a Russian puppet and should be impeached forthwith.

What's wrong with that view is that there is no evidence to support it--and, by the way, the president can instantly de-classify classified information. His revealing it de-classifies it. There arises, therefore, no high crime or misdemeanor.

The partisan right-wing view is that, OK, maybe Trump said too much because, after all, he's new to public office and still naïve on some of those esoteric things. But his intentions, which were to ally with the Russians in fighting terrorism, were fine. Anyway, the crime is not the president's, but the leakers'.

The first problem with that is that sharing interests with Russia doesn't invite sharing secrets. Those rascals are not our friends. The second problem is that the supposed offense of leaking doesn't excuse the substance leaked. Conservatives loved the WikiLeaks revelations on Hillary Clinton.

The in-between and correct view is that Trump is ... let's just say he is so beset by an affliction--probably megalomania and a diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder--that he behaves chronically in ways that are ego-needy and reckless.

Maureen Dowd once famously wrote that Bill Clinton's actions weren't grounds for impeachment, but divorce.

Likewise, Trump's actions--in the Russian conversation outrage--aren't grounds for impeachment, but professional help.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 05/18/2017

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