A few weeks after Inauguration Day, White House policy adviser Stephen Miller declared on national television that “the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
Three months later, it is increasingly clear that the powers of the president to stop leaks are rather unsubstantial and will be questioned almost daily.
The Washington Post reported Friday — based on information from U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports — that President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, discussed setting up a secret communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin using Russian facilities in Washington when he met in December with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States.
The revelation caps a remarkable two-week stretch of leaks to the press. Let’s recap:
- On May 15, The Post reported that Trump divulged classified information about a terrorist plot to Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting in the Oval Office five days earlier.
- On May 16, the New York Times and other news outlets reported that the intelligence Trump revealed to the Russians came from Israel.
- On May 16, the Times reported that Trump in February asked James B. Comey, the FBI’s director at the time, to drop an investigation centered on former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
- On May 17, The Post reported that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told fellow Republicans last year that he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin pays Trump.
- On May 19, The Post reported that a federal law enforcement probe of ties between Trump’s team and Russia had reached a current senior White House adviser.
- On May 19, the Times reported that Trump said during his meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov that he “faced great pressure because of Russia” before firing Comey. “That’s taken off,” Trump reportedly said.
- On May 22, The Post reported that Trump asked the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.
- On May 24, the Times reported that Russian officials schemed last summer to influence Trump through Flynn and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
- On May 25, The Post and NBC News identified Kushner as the senior White House adviser under scrutiny by federal investigators.
“Leak” might not be the right word. Perhaps “gusher” is more descriptive.
Trump has railed against unauthorized disclosures to the press since he took office, but the issue came to a head Thursday on a matter unrelated to Russia. After the name of the suspected Manchester concert bomber leaked to U.S. news outlets, along with crime scene photos, Britain briefly suspended intelligence sharing on the case.
Trump tasked the Justice Department with rooting out the source of the leaks, and Britain resumed intelligence sharing after receiving what police there described as “fresh assurances.” Yet the strength of such assurances seems dubious. The leaks just keep coming.
I feel compelled, at this moment, to credit Politico’s Jack Shafer with nailing a pre-inauguration prediction. Arguing that Trump’s animosity toward the media might actually produce better journalism, Shafer wrote the following on Jan. 16:
As Trump shuts down White House access to reporters, they will infest the departments and agencies around town that the president has peeved. The intelligence establishment, which Trump has deprecated over the issue of Russian hacking, owes him no favors and less respect. It will be in their institutional interest to leak damaging material on Trump.
That is exactly how things have played out. And Trump seems powerless to stop it.