Ever since President Trump took office, he has had to contend with leaky staff. From transcripts of his call with Mexican President Peña Nieto, to little leaks such as Trump ignoring the advice of national security advisors not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his election win, to the seemingly monthly rumors of interpersonal feuds, imminent firings and upcoming plans – the Trump White House has been a veritable leak factory.
In response, President Trump has come out with a serious warning for White House leakers after a callous comment about John McCain’s brain cancer made by communications staffer Kelly Sadler was leaked to the media last week.
The so-called leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over exaggeration put out by the Fake News Media in order to make us look as bad as possible. With that being said, leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 14, 2018
After McCain urged the Senate to reject Gina Haspel’s nomination for CIA director, calling her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality “disqualifying,” Sadler reportedly said “[i]t doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.“
After the controversy over the Sadler comment, White House Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a meeting with the communications team about leaks, which promptly leaked to Axios.
Sources in the room on Friday told me senior leaders on the press team spent more time focused on the fact that Sadler’s now-infamous comment had leaked, than that it was said in the first place.
In an emotional speech in the Roosevelt Room, Sanders lambasted the press and communications team for the leak:
- Kelly Sadler’s comment was inappropriate, she said, according to a staffer in the room, but that didn’t justify leaking it to the press.
- Sanders told the team that Thursday should have been a great day for the White House, especially with the historic photos of Trump welcoming the hostages released from North Korea.
- But instead, that was overcome by saturation cable TV coverage about Sadler’s comment. In Thursday’s meeting of the White House communications and press team, Sadler said “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” in reference to McCain’s decision to oppose Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel. The Hill first reported the private remarks. Since then, everyone from McCain’s family to members of Congress to former Vice President Joe Biden has condemned the remark. –Axios
Former White House chief of staff, Karl Rove, blasted the leakers on Monday, telling FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo “I’ve never seen a White House leak as much against itself as this one and these are people putting their own personal agendas above those of the country and the president that they serve,” adding “Frankly it’s ridiculous, it’s despicable, it’s reprehensible and it does not help anyone.”
— Maria Bartiromo (@MariaBartiromo) May 14, 2018
On Sunday, Axios published an exposé on White House leakers entitled White House Leakers Leak About Leaking,” in which they go into the mind of your typical “traitor and coward” as Trump now calls them.
The big picture: The leaks come in all shapes and sizes: small leaks, real-time leaks, weaponized leaks, historical leaks. Sensitive Oval Office conversations have leaked, and so have talks in cabinet meetings and the Situation Room. You name it, they leak it.
- My colleague Mike Allen, who has spent nearly 20 years covering the White House, says we learn more about what’s going on inside the Trump White House in a week than we did in a year of the George W. Bush presidency.
- This White House leaks so much that meetings called to bemoan leaks begin with acknowledgement the bemoaning will be leaked, which is promptly leaked…by several leakers in a smallish room. –Axios
According to the report, leakers have a wide variety of reasons for doing what they do. Via Axios:
- “To be honest, it probably falls into a couple of categories,” one current White House official tells me. “The first is personal vendettas. And two is to make sure there’s an accurate record of what’s really going on in the White House.”
- “To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers’ idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me,” the current White House official added.
- “The most common substantive leaks are the result of someone losing an internal policy debate,” a current senior administration official told me. “By leaking the decision, the loser gets one last chance to kill it with blowback from the public, Congress or even the President.”
- “Otherwise,” the official added, “you have to realize that working here is kind of like being in a never-ending ‘Mexican Standoff.‘ Everyone has guns (leaks) pointed at each other and it’s only a matter of time before someone shoots. There’s rarely a peaceful conclusion so you might as well shoot first.”
One key reason was ignored: cold hard cash, which is why doubt any of the leakers will be dissuaded by Trump’s tough talk.