When North Korea launched a ballistic missile last weekend, the ensuing rush to deal with the diplomatic crisis was played out at a dinner table in the middle of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago private club, where he was entertaining Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In full view of guests, and others with no security clearance (including their wives, translators, and wait staff), Trump and Abe discussed the event.
Now there are people who want answers about what went on that evening.
More specifically, House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz wants to know why this business was carried out so publicly, and wants an accounting of the security at Mar-a-Lago.
In a letter to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, Chaffetz requested answers about security protocols at Mar-a-Lago; the details of potentially sensitive documents that Trump and his aides perused in the presence of diners and waitstaff; and whether any sensitive material was discussed in public. The Utah Republican is also seeking information about whether guests are vetted to “ensure that they are not foreign agents or spies on behalf of a foreign government.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer spoke about the incident on Tuesday, insisting that the president was briefed before and after dinner in secure locations.
That doesn’t take away from the optics of his aides moving in around the dinner table and the hurried phone calls.
It doesn’t really explain the cell phone snaps being posted to social media.
And it doesn’t completely satisfy Chaffetz and others in Congress, who want better answers than those that have been given.
“‘[D]iscussions with foreign leaders regarding international missile tests, and documents used to support those discussions, are presumptively sensitive,” the Utah Republican wrote. “While the President is always on duty, and cannot dictate the timing of when he needs to receive sensitive information about urgent matters, we hope the White House will cooperate in providing the Committee with additional information.”
Pictures and videos of Trump’s chaotic dinner — with top aides holding up cell phones in the darkened room as Trump, alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, considered their response to the missile test — surfaced quickly over the weekend, posted by fellow diners. Chaffetz also noted that separately, a Mar-a-Lago member posted a picture alongside the U.S. official responsible for carrying the nuclear “football,” the briefcase that allows the president to launch a nuclear strike.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who saw that selfie-moment with “Rick” as unseemly conduct.
Chaffetz has made his concerns known to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, and has requested answers from the White House by February 28.
February 28 is also the day the Office of Government Ethics has requested a response from the White House, regarding ethics violations by senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, when she basically gave a commercial for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line on “Fox and Friends” last week.
Chaffetz joined with ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings to request a probe by the OGE into Conway’s conduct.
Some of this can be written off as growing pains, as Trump and his inexperienced staff learn the ropes of government and what’s expected of them.
They’d better learn fast, however, because the world isn’t getting any easier to manage and we can’t afford such sloppiness to become the norm.