President Trump on Wednesday suggested the U.S. intelligence community may be “illegally” leaking sensitive information to hurt his administration, effectively ending a brief detente with agencies he previously accused of working against him.
Trump addressed the situation of government leaks Wednesday afternoon during his joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Intelligence, papers are being leaked," Trump said. "Things are being leaked. It's a criminal action -- criminal act -- and it's been going on for a long time. Before me. But now it's really going on."
He later emphasized that the "documents and papers" were "illegally -- I stress that -- illegally leaked."
Earlier Wednesday, Trump issued a Twitter screed in the wake of a string of damaging news stories based primarily on anonymous government sources, involving information apparently gathered by the nation’s spy agencies.
The leaks culminated in National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s Monday night resignation. This was after The Washington Post reported he had discussed sanctions with a Russian official during the transition period – something Flynn had told Vice President Pence did not occur. The New York Times on Tuesday night also published a story alleging vague connections between several Trump associates – many of whom were not named – and Russian intelligence agents.
“This Russian connection nonsense is merely an attempt to cover up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” Trump tweeted, citing the Democratic presidential nominee he defeated in the November election. “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia”
This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
He added: "The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by 'intelligence' like candy. Very un-American!"
Trump also took issue with the characterization advanced by some critics that he's been soft on Russia, noting aggressive actions taken by the Kremlin when Trump's predecessor was in office.
“Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” Trump tweeted.
Trump has previously derided the intelligence community, which he believed leaked information that led to prior reports about supposed connections between his campaign and the Russian government. Trump also initially refused to say that Russia was responsible for a series of pre-election hacks of Democratic emails, though he eventually conceded the Kremlin was likely behind it. Trump also has been criticized for his stance seeking a better relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Flynn’s departure just three weeks into the Trump administration prompted a Bloomberg article titled, “The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn,” which questioned the circumstances surrounding the retired lieutenant general’s ouster.
“…for a White House that has such a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth, it’s strange that Flynn’s ‘lie’ to Pence would get him fired. It doesn’t add up,” Eli Lake wrote.
Trump, however, favorably cited the Lake piece due to its insinuation that intelligence services contributed to Flynn getting the boot.
“Thank you to Eli Lake of The Bloomberg View – 'The NSA & FBI…should not interfere in our politics…and is' very serious situation for USA.”
Thank you to Eli Lake of The Bloomberg View - "The NSA & FBI...should not interfere in our politics...and is" Very serious situation for USA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
WikiLeaks head Julian Assange also tweeted Wednesday morning from his newly activated personal account, framing the battle between Trump and the intelligence community. Assange and his anti-secrecy organization played a pivotal role during the presidential election, with WikiLeaks releasing a trove of emails that proved politically damaging to Clinton.
"Amazing battle for dominance is playing out between the elected US govt & the IC who consider themselves to be the 'permanent government'," Assange wrote.