CNN's Zakaria Hopes Trump Behavior Is 'Incompetence' and Not Something 'Dark'

Appearing as a guest on Monday's CNN Tonight to discuss revelations that President Donald Trump shared classified intelligence with Russian officials in a recent meeting, CNN host Fareed Zakaria argued that "incompetence" by Trump would be a preferable explanation for the development rather than the more "dark" alternative of it being intentional.

Sighing, host Don Lemon worried: "I'm a glass half full guy, but, I mean, it's, for you to say that the most benign or the best explanation is incompetency is -- we're at a very sad place right now."

After recalling the meeting between the President and Russian officials, Lemon brought aboard Zakaria and fretted:

As I ask you almost every single night, what is your reaction to this breaking news? It's not funny, but it's laughable. Every single time I have you on, there is some breaking news. The President has done something outrageous, and here we are reacting to it.

Zakaria began his analysis:

Well, in this case, it seems to me, well, you almost have to hope for incompetence because the alternative is so dark. And so let's go with the incompetence theory.

After Lemon injected, "Do you think he's incompetent?" Zakaria continued:

I certainly think he does not seem to either understand or care about the structures and processes of high government office. You know, this is one of those cases where, again, the fact that you ran a pretty successful real estate franchising operation in New York City does not really translate into running the United States because this is a matter of kind of very, very sensitive intelligence -- how you shared, who you shared with -- and you need to understand, your government spend -- we spend $70 billion on intelligence. 

After proclaiming that "that's the benign interpretation," he added:

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The less benign interpretation is that this was some kind of, you know, this was provided to the Russians in a way that was, you know, he was helping the Russians out. But I doubt that that's the case, so I'm sticking to the incompetence rather than the banality theory right now.

A bit later, Zakaria recalled that Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had advisors who actively talked them out of doing things that would have been inappropriate, and worried: "There doesn't seem to be any of that. We're dealing with a court, and the king is always right."

Lemon responded: "I'm a glass half full guy, but, I mean, it's, for you to say that the most benign or the best explanation is incompetency is -- we're at a very sad place right now."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Monday, May 15, CNN Tonight:

DON LEMON: President Trump reportedly sharing classified information with two top Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting last night. Two former officials knowledgeable about the situation confirming those reports to CNN. Let's discuss now. Fareed Zakaria, the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS. As I ask you almost every single night, what is your reaction to this breaking news? It's not funny, but it's laughable. Every single time I have you on, there is some breaking news. The President has done something outrageous, and here we are reacting to it.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, in this case, it seems to me, well, you almost have to hope for incompetence because the alternative is so dark. And so let's go with the incompetence theory.

LEMON: Do you think he's incompetence -- incompetent?

ZAKARIA: I certainly think he does not seem to either understand or care about the structures and processes of high government office. You know, this is one of those cases where, again, the fact that you ran a pretty successful real estate franchising operation in New York City does not really translate into running the United States because this is a matter of kind of very, very sensitive intelligence -- how you shared, who you shared with -- and you need to understand, your government spend -- we spend $70 billion on intelligence. 

Other countries spend billions and billions of dollars. These are the crown jewels of these -- and to put them all, you know, to expose all of that without really having thought it through, seems incredibly careless. It suggests a kind of lack of respect for your allies. So that's the benign interpretation. 

The less benign interpretation is that this was some kind of, you know, this was provided to the Russians in a way that was, you know, he was helping the Russians out. But I doubt that that's the case, so I'm sticking to the incompetence rather than the banality theory right now.

(...)

ZAKARIA: Haldeman would actually listen to what Nixon said and say, "Don't do that." Right, I mean, in some ways, the American President is too powerful, particularly the modern post-1945 American President. The staff needs to recognize -- Jim Baker did this with Reagan. You can't do everything the President says. You have to figure out whether it's legal, whether it's constitutional, whether it's appropriate, maybe bring it back to him and say, "Just want to be sure, sir. Yesterday, you said we should do this. Do you really want to do this?" There doesn't seem to be any of that. We're dealing with a court, and the king is always right.

LEMON: (sighs and laughs): I'm a glass half full guy, but, I mean, it's, for you to say that the most benign or the best explanation is incompetency is -- we're at a very sad place right now. Thank you, Fareed. I appreciate it.

Brad Wilmouth
Brad Wilmouth is a contributing blogger to NewsBusters