Leaks Dogging Trump in West Wing and State Department
Former Pentagon official says 'nothing short of prison is enough' for culpable officials
Serious leaks have rocked the White House and likely sent top staffers searching for the individuals in the West Wing and Cabinet-level agencies responsible for the disclosures — some of which may have included classified information.
Washington and the diplomatic enclaves across the world were jolted on Wednesday night when two reports — one by the Associated Press and one by The Washington Post — outlined what Trump said to the leaders of Mexico and Australia.
“If the leaks are unauthorized, nothing short of prison is enough … What they are doing is staging their own personal coup d’etat to undermine an elected president.”
In the Friday call to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump reportedly said Mexico had some “bad hombres” south of the border, and seemed to suggest the U.S. military could be dispatched there to take care of them.
“You aren’t doing enough to stop them,” Trump reportedly told the Mexican president, “I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”
Trump was likely referring to Mexican drug-cartel leaders who have killed hundreds of people while exporting heroin and methamphetamines to the United States.
In a call to the Australian prime minister Saturday, Trump reportedly told Malcolm Turnbull that he was irked with an agreement former President Obama made to accept hundreds of refugees residing in Australia.
Trump told Turnbull the call to the Australian leader was the worst he had that day, and he cut it short.
The leaks were likely made on Tuesday or Wednesday, and the Associated Press reported it received a portion of the transcript to Peña Nieto.
The leaks caught the attention of newly sworn-in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who addressed State Department employees at the Foggy Bottom headquarters on Thursday morning.
"I know this was a hotly contested election, and we do not all feel the same way about the outcome," said Tillerson. "Each of us is entitled to the expression of our political beliefs. But we cannot let our personal convictions overwhelm our ability to work as one team."
It isn't just about the leaks. Tillerson and the Trump administration are likely reacting to reports in The Washington Post and elsewhere that federal employees are planning to defy their own chief executive because they do not agree with him politically.
"At a church in Columbia Heights last weekend, dozens of federal workers attended a support group for civil servants seeking a forum to discuss their opposition to the Trump administration," The Post reported on Tuesday. "And 180 federal employees have signed up for a workshop next weekend, where experts will offer advice on workers' rights and how they can express civil disobedience."
Thus, the leaks could be the result of bad intent, made against a president who is being targeted by Democratic civil service workers and appointees of former President Obama. It's an internal civil war that threatens to further roil the waters of the Trump administration in its first months.
One Republican congresswoman said enough is enough.
Speaking on "The Laura Ingraham Show" Thursday, U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) said Trump has to fire leakers, especially ones with a political agenda.
"I think Trump has to clean house, regarding the leaks, it's too important for our country and national security,"said Black. "They have to get over the fact you didn't win."
Some pundits in Washington — including The Post's Chris Cillizza — theorize the leaks could be a way of Trump partisans to blow the whistle on their own boss.
"In the long tradition of whistleblowers, they are using selective leaks to make sure that people know what is really going on inside the White House," Cillizza wrote on Thursday.
It doesn't matter to others what the motivations are. The leaks are damaging, some former executive branch officials believe.
"If the leaks are somehow authorized to show the public that Trump is sticking true to his promises on immigration, there's better ways to do that," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and resident scholar of the American Enterprise Institute. "If the leaks are unauthorized, nothing short of prison is enough. Disagreeing with Trump's policies is no excuse and self-righteously believing they are fighting for democracy is nonsense. What they are doing is staging their own personal coup d'etat to undermine an elected president with information they are sworn to protect. The political points they hope to score do permanent damage to the United States and trust in its intelligence and diplomatic institutions."
Since Trump took office on Jan. 20, the administration has been plagued by a number of leaks about the internal process. Some leaks have panned out, while others have been hotly denied by the White House.
The leaks include: a charge that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was not briefed on the executive order on restrictions on travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations; a charge that Trump ended a call with Turnbull; a charge that Trump said he could send troops to deal with Mexico's "bad hombres"; and a charge that Trump asked U.S. Judge Thomas Hardiman to drive toward D.C. to increase speculation before the selection of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.