General Kelly looks to crack down on the administration’s leaky ways.
Unless another senior West Wing staffer gets unceremoniously fired this afternoon—which, to be fair, can never be completely ruled out—it appears that Donald Trump’s administration will remain in the hands of General John F. Kelly, who replaced harried maître d’ Reince Priebus last week as White House chief of staff. You can’t open a browser window right now without being regaled by breathless descriptions of the MILITARY DISCIPLINE and UNCOMPROMISING RIGOR that Kelly will supposedly bring to the position. A “beacon of discipline,” the New York Times calls him. I mean, look at this glowing report of all the ways in which he’s tightened up the ship already:
Mr. Kelly cuts off rambling advisers midsentence. He listens in on
conversations between cabinet secretaries and the president. He has
booted lingering staff members out of high-level meetings, and ordered
the doors of the Oval Office closed to discourage strays. He fired
Anthony Scaramucci, the bombastic New Yorker who was briefly the
communications director, and has demanded that even Mr. Trump’s
family, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared
Kushner, check with him if they want face time with the president.
Wow, White House staff now have to report directly to… the White House’s chief of staff. REVOLUTIONARY.
One of Kelly’s most formidable challenges—you know, besides getting the president to stop tweeting from the toilet every morning—will be putting an end to the myriad leaks that have plagued Trump’s famously freewheeling operation. Although Kelly’s position on the subject perhaps isn’t as murderous as the late Anthony Scaramucci’s, Kelly has opined that intelligence leaks are “darn close to treason,”and virtually every analysis of his hiring predicts that a crackdown on the practice, in some form or another, is coming. This morning, in a transparent attempt to crawl back into his boss’ good graces, Jeff Sessions thirstily announced that the number of Department of Justice-led investigations into the “culture of leaks” has tripled, lobbing a not-remotely subtle grenade at the First Amendment on his way out the door, just for good measure.
Hating leaks isn’t a sentiment unique to the Trump White House. President Obama prosecuted more leakers than all his predecessors combined. But this administration has re-defined and weaponized the word, lumping those who disclose classified information—which can be illegal—together with whistleblowers who disclose unclassified information that demonstrates that our president and his associates are a gaggle of incompetent boors who possess an astonishing inability to remember their various lunch dates with Russians—which is not illegal. Donald Trump thinks every negative story sourced from inside the administration is an unlawful “leak,” and he expects each of his sycophantic subordinates to adopt the same uncompromising perspective.
This is profoundly grim stuff. If the president is, say, threatening the FBI director with termination in their private conversations, or if Michael Flynn is lying about his clandestine interactions with Russian officials, those are important things to know! And even classified information, despite its status as such, can still be firmly in the public interest. It’s already unsettling to learn, for example, that a tantrum-throwing President of the United States has to have the basic facts of international bilateral agreements patiently explained to him by a foreign leader in the same manner I use to explain to my three-year-old niece the exact circumstances under which she’ll get to have dessert after dinner. Yes, there are arguably diplomatic implications to such disclosures, and we can wring our hands about them all we want. But I’m not convinced that the fact that the president embarrassed the country on the world stage should remain completely shielded from the people who elected him—especially when Trump is actively lying about basic facts of his interactions, believing that he would face no repercussions for doing so.
At times, leaks have been the only substantive check on an administration that doesn’t much care for [David Brooks voice] longstanding democratic norms and boundaries. [End David Brooks voice] This White House is already ultra-secretive in just about everything it does, and if General Kelly finds a way to end the leaks—both real leaks, and things Donald Trump thinks are leaks—it will suddenly enjoy a lot more freedom to accomplish the various elements of its intellectually bankrupt agenda. (Think about it: You already intuitively understood that a Mexico-financed border wall was an insane fever dream, but learning that Trump admitted as much to Mexico’s president reveals the purposeful dishonesty of his many promises to the contrary.)
The most important tool for the millions of Americans who seek to hold President Trump accountable for his actions is information. The only way being governed by this White House gets scarier is if that pipeline disappears altogether.
The Threats Are Out of Control
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