Washington’s leaky culture appears to be unstoppable.
In the space of just 24 hours, the president, his new chief of staff and his summarily dispatched communications director were the target of damaging or embarrassing leaks.
And remember, this is supposed to be a new era, with a four-star general running a much tighter ship.
As a journalist I thrive on being able to find out what’s going on behind the scenes. But in this administration I continue to be amazed at how much stuff is whispered to reporters in furtherance of personal agendas.
Anthony Scaramucci, who came in as communications director with loud proclamations about firing leakers, was himself the target of a gusher of leaks after being fired Monday by chief of staff John Kelly. One unnamed White House official told Politico, “No way could he work with Kelly. His antics over the past week were crazy by any standard.” An official also described the Mooch as constantly reminding aides in meetings that he wasn’t “one of them."
This also speaks to the Beltway’s kick-’em-when-they’re-down culture in which everyone piles on when you’re down, even though Scaramucci suffered from self-inflicted wounds. Thus, when Reince Priebus was ousted, someone leaked that President Trump once asked him to come in and kill a fly.
CNN hit Kelly with a rough story on his first day at the White House. Quoting unnamed sources, the network said Kelly, as Homeland Security chief, "was so upset with how President Donald Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey that Kelly called Comey afterward and said he was considering resigning."
It was not clear how serious Kelly was, CNN said, but Comey urged him by phone not to resign. Obviously this may create some awkwardness with his new boss.
In a potentially more serious piece than those involving internal backbiting, the Washington Post reported Monday night that the president “personally dictated a statement” about his son and that June 2016 meeting with several Russians.
The statement to the New York Times said that Donald Trump Jr. (along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort) and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.”
That turned out to be so limited as to be misleading, as became clear when the Times obtained more information and Don Jr. had to put out a second statement acknowledging that he’d been told the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had damaging information on Hillary Clinton that Russia’s “government” wanted to share with the campaign. This was confirmed when Don Jr. released a series of emails before the Times could publish them.
Kellyanne Conway told "Special Report" that Trump said "he weighed in, like any father would."
I’ve previously reported that the president’s son wanted to make a fuller disclosure at the outset but was essentially overruled. The importance of this leak is that the blame previously fell on senior White House officials who were working on the statement while flying back from the G-20 meeting. Plus, it contradicts an earlier denial from Jay Sekulow, the president’s lawyer. Sekulow now says “the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent.”
The Post even quotes an anonymous presidential adviser as saying, “Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead.” It doesn’t exactly sound like this adviser has Trump’s best interests at heart.
History would suggest there’s no way to stop leaks. Richard Nixon failed, even after creating the “plumbers” unit, a covert investigative group whose techniques included burglary.
The big difference in this administration is that the president is often damaged by these leaks and they sometimes include classified information. And there’s no sign that these leaks will recede any time soon.