In a statement released Friday morning, the Pentagon attempted to allay fears that Trump’s positive Covid-19 diagnosis posed a potential imminent threat to national security, stressing that the development did not warrant a change in defense alert levels or military stance.
“The readiness or ability of our armed forces will not change. Our national command and control structure will not be affected in any way by this announcement,” said Jonathan Hoffman, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
“The US military is ready to defend our country and our interests,” he added.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper spoke to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday while both were abroad about the president̵
While defense officials sought to allay fears of an impending national security crisis, uncertainty about Trump’s health poses a clear challenge to those charged with protecting the US from domestic and international threats.
Like the Pentagon, several current and former national security officials noted that there are mechanisms in place to deal with instabilities caused by damage or injury to a president.
At the same time, Trump’s illness “only makes this already chaotic system more chaotic,” said John Gans, former Pentagon speechwriter and author of a book on the National Security Council, who added that the president’s own actions during his tenure could increase the risks of a ” total collapse of the government “.
“It’s important to remember that most of America’s modern national security infrastructure and processes were built because of the instability of sick or injured presidents,” Gans, who served under the Obama administration, told CNN. “Because of the way Trump is running the government, his illness, like Roosevelt’s death and Reagan’s incapacity to act, risks a total breakdown of decision-making in the government.
How bad is it?
Connecticut Democrat Senator Chris Murphy also admitted that “there is a safety implication when a president falls ill,” but acknowledged that the urgency of these concerns depends in part on whether Trump’s health continues to deteriorate.
Murphy told CNN’s Kylie Atwood at the Truman Center’s National Policy Conference that he had “taken White House chief of staff Mark Meadows” at his word that the president had not incapacitated, that he had mild symptoms and was still able to act as that. ” Head of State. ”
“I was glad that Mark Meadows came out this morning and made this clear. Our allies and our opponents need to know and understand this because we still have many on the latter list investigating our vulnerabilities,” said Murphy.
That view has been borne out by some former national security officials who cautioned caution in assessing the current level of concern but warned that the threat landscape could shift depending on Trump’s state.
“As long as the president has mild to moderate symptoms, I wouldn’t expect any major changes in the way our national security apparatus works or in the actions of our opponents,” said Eric Brewer, a former NSC official during the Trump and Obama administrations.
However, Samantha Vinograd, a national security analyst for CNN and a former NSC official during the Obama administration, insisted the situation was much more urgent and called it a “code red moment for the US multilevel government”.
Those fears are likely only compounded by news late Friday that Trump will be hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and will be staying there for “the next few days,” and likely only to raise concerns about whether the president’s health is one Serious Nationals Poses Security Threat.
Several senior government officials, including a cabinet official and two senior Republicans, had not been briefed on the situation by Friday night when the president was flown to see Walter Reed, officials told CNN.
Meanwhile, US national security officials continue to monitor foreign adversaries who may be trying to take advantage of the current upheaval caused by Trump’s positive diagnosis.
Secret services on alert
For the secret services, officials and analysts will now examine whether foreign enemies see the uncertainty in the White House as an opportunity.
“We will monitor the opponents closely to see how they react and what they could do during this time,” said a US official.
“These include the Russians, Chinese, Iranians and terrorist groups,” said former high-ranking intelligence officer Norman Roule. “Multi-source analysis and collection will cover decision making, military activities, and movements of personnel and resources that would facilitate operations against us.”
The office of the director of the National Intelligence Service, which runs the community’s 16 agencies, could issue specific guidelines to expand the collection through a tool known as a “collection focus message” with specific requirements or questions about an adversary.
James Clapper, who headed ODNI under President Barack Obama, told CNN that he would tell the heads of the various agencies to “lean forward in the foxhole to pay special attention to provocations”.
“This must be a major distraction” for the national security apparatus, Clapper said, adding that it is “very unlikely” that opponents would take action for the time being.
Brewer, a former intelligence official, reiterated this view, telling CNN that he believes opponents like Russia are likely to try to reinforce conspiracies and misinformation related to the situation, but that such actions are not outside the scope of what they are currently doing to do.
“I’m sure the conspiracy theorists will go wild with all kinds of claims that will serve as useful fodder for Russia and others to try, gamble and take advantage of. But I wouldn’t put that in the ‘new’ category. he said.
“I am convinced that the Russians are ready to do everything possible to get this president re-elected,” said Murphy.
“And knowing that he will be banned from at least normal campaigns for the next two weeks could mean this massive multi-tiered octopus-like Russian interference operation is going to increase, and I think we all have to be.” Knowing this, we must take every step to make the American people understand what real information is from countries like Russia, “he added.
This story was updated with additional developments on Friday.
CNN’s Barbara Starr, Vivian Salama, Kylie Atwood, Jennifer Hansler, Jamie Gangel and Ryan Browne contributed to this report