Can you believe the world we live in today? Isn’t it crazy?” Indeed it is, Mr President. And guess who would qualify as the primary piece of evidence in making this case. The quotation above comes from Donald Trump’s recent tête-à-tête with Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to Washington respectively.
A photographer for the official Russian Tass news agency witnessed the encounter, but all American media representatives were excluded. It was, however, The Washington Post rather than any Russian outlet that on Monday reported a far more serious faux pas. Apparently, during the chat Mr Trump revealed to the Russians a piece of highly classified information that had not been shared even with the closest US allies. It related to the militant Islamic State group’s planned use of laptop computers to wreak havoc on aeroplanes — and presumably accounts for the laptop ban on some flights to the US.
Sharing such information with all nations that might potentially be affected would, of course, be the decent thing to do. Equally, it might not be wise to do so in a manner that risks compromising the source. Talk of impeachment has been ramped up since last week’s peremptory dismissal of James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who had lately been seeking extra resources for probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian state. Should it come to pass, no one would be particularly surprised to find it being declared, in a 4am presidential tweet, as the greatest impeachment ever, with the highest conceivable television ratings.
Mr Comey’s public intervention on the eve of last year’s presidential election, when he declared that Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton was under investigation once more for email abuse, after having been cleared of inappropriate intent for using a private server during her tenure as secretary of state, likely played a not insignificant role in boosting Mr Trump’s chances. Even though Mr Comey stepped back just days later to declare no grievous offence had been committed, he offered not the slightest hint that the Trump campaign was simultaneously under a far more serious investigation.
Mr Comey’s public statements last year, initially welcomed by Mr Trump, led to comparisons on the Democratic side of the fence between him and J. Edgar Hoover’s disgracefully relentless pursuit of civil rights beacon Martin Luther King Jr, including the suggestion, around the time Mr King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, that he should commit suicide. Mr King refused to bow — even though he felt sufficiently intimidated to suspend direct contact with reputedly communist associates — and was assassinated in 1968, shortly before Bobby Kennedy suffered a similar fate.
Mr Kennedy was attorney general under his brother, John F. Kennedy, when he approved the FBI’s wiretapping of Mr King. Neither brother was a fan of Mr Hoover’s, but dismissing him was out of the question, given how much he knew about the Kennedys’ sexual dalliances. The trove of information to which he had the keys meant that the proto-fascistic Mr Hoover effectively became the FBI’s director-for-life when it was constituted in 1935, after having presided for 11 years over its predecessor, the Bureau of Investigation. His overall tenure added up to almost 47 years, during which the FBI did not restrict itself to fighting crime but also substantially undermined American democracy.
Things changed, to an extent, after Mr Hoover. It was, after all, FBI associate director Mark Felt who turned out to be Deep Throat, the secret whistleblower who served as the primary source for Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, whose reports sealed the fate of the Nixon presidency.
Mr Trump heads out later this week on his first foreign foray as President, with Saudi Arabia as his first port of call, followed by Israel and the Vaticant. Chances are that the question of whether he’ll ultimately be led out of the White House by men in dark suits or men in white coats will only be reinforced in the process.
By arrangement with Dawn...