The fact that President Donald Trump either didn’t read or ignored a warning in his briefing papers not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on a phone call between the two men Tuesday is a sexy story. But, it is not the real story here.
That real story is that mere hours after Trump held a call with a foreign leader, the fact that he had gone against the advice of his national security team and congratulated Putin was leaked to the press.
The reporting in The Washington Post, which broke the story Tuesday evening, makes clear that the sourcing comes from people who were intimately familiar with the call between Trump and Putin. The sources knew that:
a) Trump had congratulated Putin on his “win”;
b) Trump’s briefing papers had contained the phrase “DO NOT CONGRATULATE”;
c) Trump didn’t broach the subject of the poisoning of a former Russia spy and his daughter on British soil;
d) Trump was urged via talking points to bring up the poisoning.
That level of information suggests a closeness to the President that doesn’t come from some junior staffer popping off. This feels like a purposeful leak at the highest levels of presumably the national security apparatus designed to publicly embarrass the President.
Why? Because there is clearly a belief among some (many?) of Trump’s advisers that the only way to really get your point across is to put it into the papers and on cable TV. That simply finding a quiet moment to counsel the President as to why he really shouldn’t have congratulated Putin on the call wouldn’t work – that Trump would either not listen or never allow that conversation to happen in the first place.
And THAT is a massive story. Because a White House – any White House – in which the confidential details of a call between the President of the United States and the President of Russia leaks out hours after it happens is a dysfunctional one.
According to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Jeff Zeleny, Trump and White House chief of staff John Kelly is livid about the leak and plans to address it sometime Wednesday.
“This is unacceptable,” one White House official told CNN, suggesting that some within the White House view the leak as a deliberate attempt to embarrass both Trump and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who was in the room for the call.
Which, um, no duh!
The leakiness of this White House is nothing new. Remember that early in Trump’s time in office, word was leaked of a very contentious phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“All White Houses leak. Sometimes the leaks are big, sometimes small. But there are always people willing to talk to reporters about the ‘real’ story or about why the chief executive made a mistake in regard to some decision he made.
That said, I’ve never seen so much leaking so quickly — and with such disdain for the President — as I have in the first six days of Donald Trump’s presidency.”
So problematic did the leaks grow that when Kelly was brought in as chief of staff, one of his signature pronouncements was that he would get a handle on the leaking of the President’s private communications and thoughts.
Didn’t work. Not only does this White House still leak like a sieve, but the nature of the leaks themselves continue to suggest a dismissiveness bordering on dislike for Trump.
He – and some around him – will likely attribute the leaks to the alleged “Deep State” burrowed within the federal government that continues to work to discredit him.
Since I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, I think the real motivation for the leaks is that some within particularly the national security apparatus have decided that leaking things to the media is the only way to a) get the President’s attention and b) possibly change his mind.
And that is no way to run a railroad. Or a White House.