Take this multiple-choice quiz as to the reason Donald Trump gave for shining on House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff about the Baghdadi operation. Was it (a) considered fully within the purview of the White House due to ongoing operations, (b) too touch-and-go to follow normal protocol, or (c) because Schiff routinely leaks like a sieve?
When Trump first announced al-Baghdadi’s death Sunday morning, he said he decided not to tell officials, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, because he was afraid leaks could compromise the mission. Speaking to reporters Monday morning, he singled out House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., as the focus of those concerns.
“The only thing is they were talking about why didn’t I give the information to Adam Schiff and his committee, and the answer is because I think Adam Schiff is the biggest leaker in Washington,” Trump said. “You know that, I know that, we all know that. I’ve watched Adam Schiff leak. He’s a corrupt politician. He’s a leaker like nobody has ever seen before.”
So in effect, it’s both (a) and (c), but mainly (c). We can also throw in a dash of (d), too — revenge. Trump has watched Schiff’s ad hoc impeachment inquiry employ selective leaks from depositions over the last couple of weeks in order to build a public narrative for his impeachment. Why would he invite Schiff in on one of his most important military achievements, especially when he has the leaker excuse to exclude him?
Perhaps he was obligated to include him, as our own Taylor Millard argued last night, but that’s not quite as clear-cut as Taylor suggested. Taylor relied on 50 USC 3093 to argue that federal law requires notification to intel committee leadership when covert operations are undertaken, but that law specifically applies to intelligence agencies, not the military. This statute was passed for the very good reasons that Taylor mentioned in his post, which is to prevent presidents from using intelligence agencies to conduct private wars without congressional oversight. Intel committees oversee intel agencies and their operations, not anything else.
However, the raid on Baghdadi was a military operation, not a CIA covert op. It used intelligence garnered from a number of agencies, not all of them American, but the raid itself was conducted by military special forces under the command of the Pentagon. As such, 50 USC 3093 does not apply. That doesn’t mean it’s not good practice to have congressional leadership on intel committees looped into such operations, but it’s not necessarily legally required. For that matter, it’s not legally required to notify congressional leadership at all for every single military operation in theaters where US troops are already operating with Congress’ knowledge, even if without their specific authorization, as has been the case in Syria for the past five years.
Barack Obama’s successful raid on Osama bin Laden was different in that regard. That military operation required an assault on a position within Pakistan, a nominal ally with whom we were not at war. That fact led to a lot of political blowback from Islamabad and other places, which Obama had to know would happen. He needed Congress on his side when the blowback happened and wisely chose to ensure it.
Trump obviously didn’t have that issue, and therefore didn’t need Democrats to share the potential blame if things went wrong, especially grandstanders like Schiff. And more especially, he didn’t need blatant leakers and demagogues like Schiff who are presently spending their time attempting to impeach Trump. That understandably tends to limit the invitations one gets from the White House for special events. Under the circumstances, it’s tough to blame Trump for (a), (c), or (d).