The White House has a new plan to plug leaks, but it could come with a negative side effect.
Both the upside and downside can be found in the lead sentence of a New York Times report on the change: “The big daily meeting that past administrations have used to keep the White House on message has been scrapped in favor of something smaller.”
Smaller meetings reduce the number of potential leakers. That's basic math. But keeping everyone on message — already a challenge for President Trump's team — might be harder if fewer people are in the room to hear the message.
Trump has publicly vented his frustration with unauthorized disclosures to the media, most recently after a communications aide's dark comment about the health of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) leaked out of a private meeting and appeared in news reports. The president tweeted this week that “leakers are traitors and cowards” and vowed to “find out who they are.”
Asked on Fox News whether she expects Trump's crusade to include staff changes, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said, “I do, actually.”
Turnover in the White House has not stopped leaks, nor has any other effort, including a ban on personal cellphones in the West Wing. The latest staff changes are not hirings or firings but, rather, tighter controls on which members of the staff receive information.
Citing an unnamed White House official, CNN's Sarah Westwood reported that “the large daily meeting had been suspended indefinitely and was not likely to return to the schedule. Instead, various groups of communications or press aides have met separately in smaller numbers this week.”
The separation strategy sounds a bit like a game of telephone, complete with the potential for information to get lost or misconstrued along the way. Much as leaks have plagued the Trump White House, contradictions have, too — even at the highest levels.
Discussing leaks on Fox News Radio this week, national security adviser John Bolton said he is “determined to cut them down,” yet Bolton also produced half of a significant, mixed message recently. Describing the U.S. strategy to denuclearize North Korea, Bolton said on CBS last month, “I think we're looking at the Libya model of 2003-2004.”
On Thursday, Trump told reporters that “the Libya model isn't the model that we have at all when we're thinking of North Korea.”
Trump and Bolton were so out of step that they appeared to not even be talking about the same thing. The Washington Post's Rick Noack noted that “while Trump appeared to be referring to [Moammar] Gaddafi’s toppling in 2011, Bolton was referring to the need to build trust and verify any denuclearization efforts.”
The White House already struggles to get everyone on the same page, at times. Separate, smaller meetings might limit the potential leaks out of any given session, but they also might increase the odds that one staffer's message will not match another's.