In a massive breach of security and diplomatic protocol, Donald Trump handled another national security crisis over dinner, this time in full view of witnesses with no security clearance, at a dinner party in Trump's Mar-a-lago resort. Party guests posted pictures of the highly-sensitive activities on social media, including selfies with the nuclear football.
We have already reported on the way Donald Trump handled his first covert operation as commander-in-chief, approving an ill-fated raid on al Qaeda in Yemen over dinner at the White House, then spending the hours during the raid tweeting from the residence, rather than monitoring the action from the Situation Room. But Trump managed to demonstrate even greater incompetence and detachment over the weekend when news broke of a provocative North Korean missile launch.
Rather than interrupt their dinner party at his profitable resort, Trump and his advisers hashed out the situation right at the dinner table with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, in full view of diners and service staff.
The enormity of the incompetence on display is breathtaking, beginning with the fact that Trump may not have (and probably did not) take that initial call on a secure phone. Party guests described the scene to the press and posted pictures of the highly-sensitive activities on social media:
Trump's paying members at Mar-a-Lago were witness to US-Japan huddle after news of DPRK launch. Out in open, using smartphones as lights. pic.twitter.com/Rcq4WqyLvr
— Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford) February 13, 2017
The surreal spectacle was best summed up by this juxtaposition from former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau:
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) February 13, 2017
Almost as surreal as this scene, which includes badly-compromised National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, was CNN's breezy report on the evening:
Sitting alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he'd spent most of the day golfing, Trump took the call on a mobile phone at his table, which was set squarely in the middle of the private club's dining area.
As Mar-a-Lago's wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe's evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN.
Trump's National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and chief strategist Steve Bannon left their seats to huddle closer to Trump as documents were produced and phone calls were placed to officials in Washington and Tokyo.
The patio was lit only with candles and moonlight, so aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents.
Even as a flurry of advisers and translators descended upon the table carrying papers and phones for their bosses to consult, dinner itself proceeded apace. Waiters cleared the wedge salads and brought along the main course as Trump and Abe continued consulting with aides.
It does not take much to imagine what this circus must look like to the rest of the world, where Trump's stature is already minimal. In a crowning indignity, Trump followed this international crisis by turning Abe into his own personal emolument. Following the reading of a joint statement on the North Korea launch, Trump wandered into a wedding reception at the resort, and "rewarded" some of his paying members:
"I saw them out on the lawn today," Trump said of the bride and groom, who were standing nearby. "I said to the Prime Minister of Japan, I said, 'C'mon Shinzo, let's go over and say hello.' "
"They've been members of this club for a long time," Trump said of the newlyweds. "They've paid me a fortune."
The fact that Hillary Clinton was excoriated for using a personal email server that was never hacked certainly does magnify the incompetence at work here. But by any standard, this was a massive embarrassment, and potentially extremely damaging to our national security.