Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Fix

The leaks coming out of the Trump White House right now are totally bananas

By Chris Cillizza

February 2, 2017 at 10:48 AM

Donald J. Trump. (EPA/JIM LO SCALZO)

Here are a few leaks that have come out of the Trump administration in just the last 24 hours:

* President Trump abruptly ended a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after condemning a refugee deal with the country and telling Turnbull "this was the worst call by far" he has had with a world leader.

* Trump threatened — his administration insisted it was "light-hearted" — Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with sending American troops into his country.

* The White House asked Judge Thomas Hardiman to drive toward D.C. to amp up the drama in advance of Trump's Supreme Court pick on Tuesday night. (Hardiman was passed over in favor of Colorado federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch.)

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If the suspense building ahead of President Trump's Supreme Court announcement seemed familiar, then you might be a fan of reality television. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

I wrote recently that not only was this the leakiest White House I'd ever seen but also that the leaks — whether purposely or not — seemed to cast the president as a child who badly needs to be managed. What's truly remarkable is that the leaking appears to be growing even more frequent and even more deleterious to President Trump's image within just the last few days.

The first two leaks are of partial transcripts of phone calls between Trump and other world leaders. How many people have access to those transcripts? And who working for Trump could possibly think it's a good idea to leak out transcripts that show Trump attempting to bully two staunch allies? This explanation, making the rounds on Twitter Thursday morning, doesn't exactly help Trump, either.

The third leak is, to me, perhaps the most baffling. White House press secretary Sean Spicer spent a decent chunk of his briefing on Wednesday disputing media reports that Hardiman and Gorsuch had both been encouraged to come to Washington in a sort of "Cannonball Run"-like competition to fill the vacant seat on the highest court in the country.  Which makes this sentence — and its sourcing — from Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush all the more amazing:

Three administration officials who did not want to be identified said Judge Hardiman hit the road to Washington to help them maintain the illusion that the selection process was still competitive.

Three. Administration. Officials. These are not people opposed to Trump. This is not the loyal opposition. These are people who work within Trump's administration, people he and his team hired to help him run the country. And this trio of people are confirming information that makes it very clear the president wanted to run his Supreme Court announcement like a cliffhanger episode of reality TV.

Why all the leaking? I've got two theories:

1. Trump only really listens to things once they are presented to him via the media. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway acknowledged in the campaign that the best way to get through to him was often to talk on cable TV or to other reporters. There's no indication that Trump has changed his voracious media consumption habits since he formally entered the White House. So it's uniquely possible that these leaks are aimed at reining him in, showing him that when he acts like this with, say, world leaders, it makes him look bad.

2.  There are people at senior levels within the administration who have major concerns about Trump and his fitness for office. 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.

Neither theory is a good thing for Trump. He is someone who has made very clear — both in the business world and in his brief stint in politics — that he expects unflinching loyalty from his staff. He's not getting anything close to that right now — and I have to assume, knowing what we know about him, it's driving him crazy.

I'd say any sort of staff purge is unlikely this early in a presidency. But that would be based on the old rules governing how you do politics. And if President Trump has proven anything, it's that he doesn't play by those rules.


Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for The Washington Post.

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