It’s become a cliché, that short sequence of questions originally asked of the Watergate-soaked president Richard Nixon – “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Who but our current president, Donald J. Trump would be proud to answer: Nothing, and never.
“Nobody briefed or told me, Pence or Chief of Staff Mark Meadows,” Trump Tweeted, about an alleged Russian program to pay Afghan militants to kill American soldiers, later adding a reason why – “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible.”
The New York Times, which broke the story, says it has a credible source who asserts Mr. Trump was briefed on the subject, and a second source that says, the matter was definitely part of one of the Presidential Daily Intelligence Briefing reports – which many say the president never reads.
The Washington Post, which has independently confirmed the story of the Russian bounty program, and that it had been, back in March, the subject of a series of high-level meetings among Trump administration national security leaders. The Post notes the report originated with U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan and was independently investigated and confirmed by the CIA.
The New York Times published the essence of this story Friday night. Why, asks John Bolton, President Trump’s estranged former National Security Advisor, didn’t the president demand an immediate explanation from his Director of National Intelligence? Instead, Bolton told Fox News and CNN, “The presidential reaction is to say: ‘It’s not my responsibility. Nobody told me about it.’ And therefore to duck any complaints that he hasn’t acted effectively. … This is the problem with the president’s decision-making,” Bolton said. “It’s not connected to reality, it’s connected to his personal position.”
Meanwhile, another White House source told the Washington Post, ‘what did he know and when” are the wrong questions. The necessary question, this official said, is “Now, that you are aware of it, what are you going to do about it?”
To which I would ask, doesn’t the answer to that depend on what “it” is or was?
Shane Harris is a staff writer with the Washington Post, covering intelligence and national security. He has previously written about these topics at The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast, and National Journal. Shane is the author of two books, The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State (Penguin Press, 2010) and @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex (Eamon Dolan /Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). He graduated from Wake Forest University in 1998. He lives in Washington, DC.Honors & Awards:Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense, 2010. Helen Bernstein Book Award For Excellence In Journalism, 2011