When the Trump administration ends, hopefully sometime soon, history will look back on one series of events that will seem far more important than they are currently being viewed. Those events include not just the firing of FBI Director James Comey, but what Trump told the two highest-ranking Russian officials in an ill-timed Oval Office meeting only hours later.
Vanity Fair has a long article full of new details on that meeting. We already knew that Trump had revealed classified information that came from Israel, infuriating our closest ally in the Middle East and leading the to pull back from sharing some raw intelligence with American spy agencies. This new article provides some specifics. The mission he revealed was one to prevent a terrorist group from getting their hands on technology that could turn an ordinary laptop into a bomb that could take down an airplane after easily getting past security. And as is so often the case, it all happened because Trump wanted to brag and bolster his own massive ego.
And, no less improbably, Trump seemed not to notice, or feel restrained by, the unfortunate timing of his conversation with Russian officials who were quite possibly co-conspirators in a plot to undermine the U.S. electoral process. Instead, full of a chummy candor, the president turned to his Russian guests and blithely acknowledged the elephant lurking in the room. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I.,” he said, according to a record of the meeting shared with The New York Times. “He was crazy, a real nut job.” With the sort of gruff pragmatism a Mafia don would use to justify the necessity of a hit, he further explained, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Yet that was only the morning’s perplexing prelude. What had been an unseemly conversation between the president and two high-ranking Russian officials soon turned into something more dangerous.
“I get great intel,” the president suddenly boasted, as prideful as if he were bragging about the amenities at one of his company’s hotels. “I have people brief me on great intel every day.”He quickly went on to share with representatives of a foreign adversary not only the broad outlines of the plot to turn laptop computers into airborne bombs but also at least one highly classified operational detail—the sort of sensitive, locked-in-the-vault intel that was not shared with even Congress or friendly governments. The president did not name the U.S. partner who had spearheaded the operation. (Journalists, immediately all over the astonishing story, would soon out Israel). But, more problematic, President Trump cavalierly identified the specific city in ISIS-held territory where the threat had been detected.
The problem here is not that he was colluding with the Russians. The problem is not malice, it’s psychological transparency. I have never seen anyone in public life whose key personality traits were more obvious and more dangerous. He isn’t a sociopath, he’s a pathetically insecure man-child with an ego both incredibly huge and incredibly fragile. He simply cannot speak to another human being without bragging. His ego depends on it. He must always be engaging in self-aggrandizement, to the point of frequent non-sequitur, or, in his mind, he might as well not exist. Everything must be made about him.
So what does he do when he has two powerful men in his office? He brags, postures, preens. He tries to lord over him that he gets such amazing intel, and he proves that by revealing something that should have been kept secret. Someone with these personality traits can never, ever be trusted with responsibility and power — not because they’ll intentionally do something with terrible consequences, but because what drives them will cause that to happen whether they intend it or not.