Donald Trump has stepped into an office that brings enormous power, says Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post. And after this week’s “bombshell headlines”, the growing question is whether he has “the judgment and discipline to be entrusted with that authority”.
This week we learnt that Trump appears to have shared highly classified information with Russian diplomats, while new allegations that Trump asked FBI director James Comey to end a probe into Mike Flynn, his former national security advisor, have also emerged. All this comes a week after Trump fired Comey – a move widely considered “improper” given that Comey was delving into possible Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in last year’s presidential election.
Trump’s decision to sack Comey as FBI director on 9 May seemed to be “a defining moment in his chaotic early stab at governing”, says Economist.com’s Democracy in America blog. But thanks to the new allegations, the sacking already “looks like last week’s story”. Trump is reported to have divulged details of an Islamic State terror plot to Russia’s foreign minister. The information had been provided to America’s spies by an allied intelligence agency, and it included details of the Middle Eastern city in which it was uncovered, potentially jeopardising a critical US intelligence source.
“Trump defended himself (on Twitter, as usual) by asserting that sharing highly classified intelligence with a foreign adversary is something ‘I have the absolute right to do’,” says an editorial in The New York Times. In legal terms he is correct, but what Trump “fails to grasp is that he was elected to protect American interests, not his own”.
Perhaps more worrying from a legal perspective, adds Noah Feldman on Bloomberg, might be the allegations that Trump asked the FBI director to end the Flynn investigation. “Using the presidential office to try to shut down the investigation of a senior executive official who was also a major player in the president’s campaign is an obvious and egregious abuse of power. It’s also a gross example of undermining the rule of law.”
More broadly this week’s news raises further questions about Trump’s suitability for the office he holds, says The New York Times. He triggered the latest crisis “during an immature boast about himself”. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” he reportedly said, before divulging the intelligence. “We are seeing the real Trump. This same inattention and ignorance, vanity and foolish impulsivity nearly sank his business – until his lenders stepped in before he took them down with him.” Will the same now happen to America?
There is now talk of impeachment, yet in practical terms “it still seems unlikely”, says Feldman. The House is in Republican hands and two-thirds of the Senate would also need to vote to convict him and thus remove him from office. Still, says Economist.com’s Democracy in America blog, “the president never had many sincere supporters among elected Republicans” and many will be privately enraged by suggestions that he put American security at risk. “With the president’s approval rating plummeting and a diminishing prospect of the sorts of health-care and tax reforms they once dreamed of, [Republican lawmakers’] exasperation and contempt” is growing.
Patience with Trump is running out, “to judge by the infuriation of senior Republicans”, agrees Matthew Norman on Independent.co.uk. “Political history may never have known a more nauseating bunch of invertebrates than today’s Republicans.” But if they start to believe their chances in the mid-term elections of 2018 are under threat, then “suddenly, publicly, they will notice that the only garment standing between their emperor and total nakedness is a gold-brocaded straitjacket”.