After Vladimir Putin stole another Russian election, Trump placed an official call to the Kremlin; his national security advisors' briefing notes for the call included the all-caps instruction "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" — naturally, Trump congratulated Putin.
We know this because someone leaked it to the Washington Post, and now, someone else has leaked the fact that both Trump and his chief of staff, John Kelly, are storming around the White House in a fury over the leak.
It's easy to understand Trump's rage, but Kelly's has dimension and nuance that really fires up the ole schadenfreude.
Kelly is pissed because:
1. Trump went-off script again
2. He did so in a way that fuels the story that his administration is in bed with Putin, and also demonstrates that he does not care if elections are won by cheating
3. The leak shows that Kelly has failed to inspire or terrorize the small cadre of White House staff into loyally standing by the president (especially when the president goes off-script [1.] in a way that demonstrates his unfitness to govern [2.], since both of those factors are certain to obtain with increasing frequency as Trump goes on tilt and loses even more of his never-prodigious executive function)
4. The leak may also indicate that America's spies — who have been repeatedly denigrated by Trump, who keeps purging their leadership for failing to bend the knee to him — are secretly working to depose Trump.
That last one is actually pretty alarming to all of us. If you're worried that US spooks deliberately undermined Clinton's election by tactically releasing ominous-sounding news about her email, then this should worry you too — US spooks have been without adult supervision for decades, and continue to demonstrate that in their version of Lord of the Flies, they get to make the rules and the political leaders who are their nominal bosses had better stay in line. Given that US spooks have kompromat on everyone in elected office, that sense of entitlement means that any overt or covert blackmail threats are likely to be heard and heeded by America's political leadership.
The leak, which one source said contributes to the ongoing atmosphere of paranoia in the West Wing, irked White House aides as well. Though the reaction has been described as "rattled," a White House official said it is more like anger and disappointment.
"This is unacceptable," the White House official said, speaking about the leak that some believe was an attempt to embarrass the President and McMaster. Another called it "ridiculous."
One of the White House officials described anger and disappointment in the West Wing over the leak.
It is still unclear if Trump actually read the guidance that was given to him by his advisers. Multiple officials have noted that he often follows his own path during his calls with world leaders. The substance of the call was not seen as a major deal by national security staffers, but the leak certainly was.
Another White House official didn't dispute to CNN Tuesday the language on the notes provided by members of Trump's National Security Council, but said Trump didn't read or see the notecard. The official added that Trump often disregards advice in calls with foreign leaders.
Trump's comments drew significant criticism among US politicians, including by Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain, a noted Russia hawk, who said "an American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections."
Trump furious over leak of warning to not congratulate Putin [Kaitlan Collins and Jeff Zeleny/CNN]