CNN: Trump, Kelly furious over "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" leak

No kidding. Presumably, this leak won’t be tough to find, either, although in a White House this garrulous, it might not be as easy as one might guess:

President Donald Trump was infuriated after it quickly leaked that he had been directly instructed by his national security advisers in briefing materials not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his recent election victory during their call Tuesday morning, a source familiar with the President’s thinking said.

Trump was fuming Tuesday night, asking his allies and outside advisers who they thought had leaked the information, noting that only a small group of staffers have access to those materials and would have known what guidance was included for the Putin call, the source said.

According to the source, the incident resurfaces his long-held belief there are individuals inside his administration — especially in the national security realm — who are actively working to undermine him.

John Kelly’s also furious, although CNN casts that anger more in reaction to concerns over the security of presidential briefings. Both are legit concerns, of course, as presidential briefings contain material that is restricted to the highest levels of government in order to protect both sources and methods. It’s no surprise that a former top-ranking military officer like Kelly would see the security implications and an officeholder would see the political implications.

In this case, though, the advice itself may have been privileged but hardly unguessable. Who could possibly have thought that congratulating an oligarchical autocrat on an “election” win was a good idea? (Besides Barack Obama, of course.) Our ally just kicked out 23 Russian diplomats over the attempted assassination of a swapped spy in Salisbury, and the aftereffects of Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election are still a millstone around Trump’s neck. This isn’t a time for “congratulations” — it’s a time for coordinated action to deal with the threat Putin poses.

On that score, at least, there does appear to be evidence of rational action:

President Donald Trump’s National Security Council has drawn up a range of options should the President decide to take action against Russia after the poisonings of a former spy and his daughter on UK soil, according to multiple State Department officials and a person familiar with the discussion. …

The sources said the most severe option being considered is for the US to expel more Russian diplomats. One of the officials said that would be a “very serious step,” especially given the last round of tit-for-tat expulsions, which left Russia and the US with significantly smaller diplomatic forces in each other’s countries.

If the US expels more Russian diplomats, in alignment with how the UK has responded to the poisonings, it would be expected that Russia would respond in kind.

Expulsion is probably too much of a reaction for an incident that didn’t occur in the US, but some response is necessary. Don’t forget that Russia traded Sergei Skripal and three others in their custody to get back ten spies from the US, not the UK, including the infamous Anna Chapman. Going after one of the swapped assets eight years later is an attack on the trade with the US as well as on the UK. That kind of arrogance either gets checked or it metastasizes. Trump has to decide which he wants, and decide soon.

In the meantime, Trump has yet another leak to plug. Presumably he and Kelly will start shaking the trees again to see who needs firing, and in this case they’d be entirely justified in doing so. But perhaps it would be preferable in the future to have Trump take the advice that his team provides and try not to flatter quasi-dictators on the optics of their sham elections. We’ve had two presidents in a row duped by Putin for long periods of time, and we’re running out of excuses as to why a third should fall for the same con.