Trump vs. GOP foreign policy.

Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

Trump’s Keeping It a Little Too Real

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.
Read More.
a | A

Watching Donald Trump comment on the hack of the Democratic National Committee's computer servers brings to mind the Dave Chappelle show. In a recurring bit called "when keeping it real goes wrong," various people would decide to say what they really felt, only to face disastrous consequences.

Trump was revealing a little too much about himself when he urged the Russian government to hack into Hillary Clinton's servers to find the e-mails that were deleted before the servers were handed over to the FBI.

Michael Hayden, who served as CIA and NSA director under President George W. Bush, did not go lightly on Trump. He said: "If he is talking about the State Department e-mails on her server, he is inviting a foreign intelligence service to steal sensitive American government information. If he is talking about the allegedly private e-mails that she destroyed, he is inviting a foreign intelligence service to violate the privacy of an individual protected by the Fourth Amendment to the American Constitution."

Those possibilities don’t reflect too well on Trump. Hayden’s assessment? “Perhaps he doesn't know what he's talking about. Just a theory.”

There is some evidence to support this theory. Last week at the Republican convention, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attacked Clinton as a “failed strategist who has permitted Russia back in as a major player in the Middle East.”

And yet Trump on Wednesday told reporters that he might consider lifting sanctions on Russia and recognizing Russia's claims to the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Was Trump unaware that his own party planned on critiquing Clinton as an appeaser to Russia?

There are other theories to explain Trump’s comment.

For instance: Is Trump revealing a fondness for one of America's most powerful adversaries? His campaign's top political adviser, Paul Manafort does have ties to allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another adviser, Carter Page worked for Russia's state oil company, Gazprom.

Or: Was Trump making a dangerous joke?

Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told me: “Most likely, Donald Trump was simply making light of Hillary Clinton setting up her own homebrew e-mail server.” He adds: “Now that he is officially a candidate for president, Trump should consider that his public comments will receive much more scrutiny.” And perhaps even be taken seriously. Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, said: "No presidential candidate should ever encourage Russia or any other nation state actor to steal the private information of American citizens or political parties.” He added however that Clinton "invited a national security disaster by placing classified information in an unsecure setting."  

The simplest explanation here would be that Trump's penchant for saying outrageous things -- a trait that served him well during the primary -- is now getting him in trouble in the general election. Because sometimes keeping it real goes wrong.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Eli Lake at elake1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net