In autumn ’16, Trump feasted on leaks like a junkyard dog neck deep in kibble. He totally adored leaks. But now, in his winter of discontent, he’s not feeling the love anymore.
Live by the leak, die by the leak.
In autumn ’16, Trump feasted on leaks like a junkyard dog neck deep in kibble. He totally adored leaks. His Russian pals stole Democratic emails, gave them to WikiLeaks, and Trump quoted them with such glee that he’d croon to the crowd, “I love WikiLeaks!” With good reason. A mere 80,000 votes in three states swung the contest and put him in the White House, with a big assist from those leaks.
But now, in his winter of discontent, he’s not feeling the love anymore. Sources in high places — American leakers, not Russian leakers — are systematically unmasking his manifest fraudulence, spilling the beans to our free and independent press on a seemingly daily basis, and suddenly he’s crying boo hoo hoo at the injustice of it all.
Well. That’s just too damn bad.
By the way, here’s the newest leak: The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that, “according to current and former officials familiar with the matter,” members of the U.S. intelligence community have withheld sensitive information from Trump, fearing that the info might be shared with the Kremlin. This sounds like the plot of a “24” season or a summer beach book, but no. Our intel leakers are telling us that they don’t trust this so-called president to keep America’s secrets.
Trump doesn’t want us to think about that. Nothing to see here, folks, move on. He doesn’t want us to think about Putingate, which already has more threads than a mountain of yarn.
He’d prefer that we share his newfound rage about leaks. Leaks are the bright shiny object that he wants us to chase. Today he threatened, “We’re going to find the leakers and they’re going to pay a big price.” Yesterday he whined that Michael Flynn was “treated very, very unfairly” because of leaks to the press. And he tweeted, “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” This, from the hypocrite who guzzled Russia’s stolen trove like candy, who abetted Russia’s very un-American invasion of our election.
And having never served a day in public life, he naturally doesn’t know that leaks have long been a fact of life in Washington. A random list of complainants:
Lyndon Johnson, who staged anonymous leaks all the time when it suited his purposes, fumed about Cabinet officials who did it behind his back. In his words, “I see them leak to the columnists, these cocktail columnists.”
Richard Nixon tried to plug leaks with his infamous burglarizing “Plumbers” unit, a forerunner of Watergate.
Gerald Ford fumed, “The leaks that have come out of highly classified information is unconscionable.”
Jimmy Carter said that “breaches of secrecy” were “one of the most difficult things I’ve had to face in Washington.”
Ronald Reagan railed, “I’ve had it up to my keister with these leaks.”
That’s the nature of the game, for better or worse. Sometimes leakers have high-road motives, and sometimes they don’t. Trevor Timm, who runs the Freedom of the Press Foundation, explains it well: “[E]very leak has an agenda behind it … It might be someone trying to disparage Trump; or competing parties within the administration may be trying to win an argument through the press. But there’s no doubt many government employees are leaking because they are genuinely terrified about what Trump is actually doing and believe the public has the right to know.”
Ah. Note that last sentence.
The leaks we’re seeing right now are unprecedented. It’s not just the flood pouring from the spigots, it’s what the leakers are saying. Typically, in previous administrations, leakers did it to undercut a presidential policy or to backstab a rival (or both). But this time it’s different. Granted, some of the leakers are reportedly furious that Trump, pre-Inauguration, ridiculed intelligence briefers and compared them to Nazis. Payback is a motive. But many are patriotic public servants who sincerely fear that this dangerously ignorant poseur is a national security threat. And they want us to know.
They can’t leak confidentially to the people who run Capitol Hill, because they’re well aware that the ruling Republicans are Trump chumps. (Jason Chaffetz, a top chump, tells Fox News that leakers shouldn’t be free to dispense info “like candy and favors.”) And the leakers certainly can’t go to the Justice Department, where Jeff Sessions serves at the feet of his master. So their only outlet — as we’re seeing now — is the free and independent press, buttressed by the First Amendment.
Make no mistake, we’re fighting a war to save this democracy; in the press, leakers are blowing the whistle on incompetent autocracy. As Trevor Timm says, “we will need more people like them in the next few years if we really want to hold the Trump administration accountable.”
The good news: It’s happening already. In the words of H. R. Haldeman, a Nixon henchman jailed for Watergate, “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s hard to get it back in.”