The Trump administration is falling apart in record time. Amidst the constant stream of new scandals, it can be easy for seemingly smaller – yet still enormously consequential – moments to slip under the radar.
Last week Trump met with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador in the Oval Office. At first, there was outrage over the fact that Trump met with Russians the day after firing FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating his Russia connections. Then, this past Monday the story morphed to take on an even more sinister hue when it was revealed that Trump gave the Russians highly classified intel during the meeting. Today, yet another concern over the meeting has risen to the forefront.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was just asked if he thought the Russians were bugging the Oval Office during the meeting. Stunningly, Tillerson said, “I would have no way to know that.”
.@mitchellreports: "Do you think the Russians were bugging the Oval Office?"
Sec. Tillerson: "I would have no way to know that." pic.twitter.com/etfKtbB765
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) May 17, 2017
The cavalier manner in which Tillerson answers the question implies a complete lack of concern, to say nothing of the alarming lack of knowledge.
NBC’s question is a valid one, especially since no American media was allowed into the Russian meeting, but TASS – a Russian media company with known ties to Russian intelligence agencies – was allowed in. Shortly after this detail of the meeting was revealed, a former National Security Advisor questioned if it was wise to let Russian audiovisual equipment into the president’s office:
Deadly serious Q: Was it a good idea to let a Russian gov photographer & all their equipment into the Oval Office? https://t.co/6WA4NxHxID
— Colin Kahl (@ColinKahl) May 10, 2017
To which a former Deputy Director of the CIA responded:
No, it was not.
— David S. Cohen (@cohendavid) May 10, 2017
These men with detailed knowledge of surveillance and intelligence procedures were clearly concerned about the security risk that the Russians posed, a risk which Trump had chosen to blissfully overlook. Trump’s mistake – if it was indeed a mistake – was incompetent and unacceptable, but possible to correct if immediate investigating and debugging took place. Tillerson’s comment implies that no such actions were taken.
It’s entirely possible that the Russian Federation now has listening devices planted inside the Oval Office, and seemingly nothing is being done about it.
It’s also possible that Tillerson – who as CEO of ExxonMobil had repeated dealings with Russian companies, and also received Russia’s Order of Friendship from Vladimir Putin in 2013 – simply doesn’t care if the Russians are spying on the White House. Under any normal conditions, this news would be more than alarming. Under Trump it’s horrifically just the latest in a long string of absurdities.
That said, maybe the Russians won’t even have to use their Oval Office bugs since Trump is willing to spill classified intelligence to them directly whenever they visit.
Rob Haffey is a writer, filmmaker, and winner of the ScreenCraft Writing Fellowship. He is a graduate of Drexel University.