Washington, D.C. has reversed its thinking on the seriousness of federal government leaks with President Donald Trump in the White House. Leaks of classified federal information are now treated as not a big deal — so long as they are damaging to Trump. Damaging leaks of classified information seem to be the preferred way to pry information from Trump, a Republican, no matter the slippery slope that federal workers head down when they unleash the documents.
A transcript of the president’s call to a foreign leader? No problem. Unmasking the name of an American citizen as he spoke to the Russian ambassador? That sounds fine to many. So long as it zings Trump.
In the previous decade, Democrats demanded prosecution of leakers of classified information, and with gusto.
In fact, the last time the Republicans held the White House, the Democrats and media built a witch hunt around a journalist’s news column. The goal was to embarrass the administration of President George W. Bush.
The Plame Affair
On July 14, 2003, columnist Robert Novak revealed that an Iraq War critic, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had traveled to Africa in February 2002 to look into claims Iraq was buying yellowcake uranium from Niger.
It was a complicated tale of the buildup to the war, but Novak got into trouble for this sentence: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate.”
David Corn, a left-wing journalist now with Mother Jones, insisted the law had been broken in the leak to Novak. The political drumbeat began, the CIA asked for action, and in September 2003, President Bush and his attorney general named a prosecutor. The investigation took two long years. As the indictment came, liberals could barely contain their glee. Some hoped for Bush’s Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to be “frog-marched” to court.
And Lawrence O’Donnell, now with MSNBC, made an infamous whiff of a prediction: “[A]t least three high-level Bush Administration personnel indicted and possibly one or more very high level unindicted co-conspirators.”
But no one was indicted for the leak itself. Scooter Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was indicted for misleading federal investigators in 2007. Perhaps realizing the political nature of the case, President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence.
New Standards in 2017: Fast-forward to February 2017.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, resigned on Feb. 13 because it was disclosed in leaks that he spoke with the Russian ambassador in late December. Flynn had told Vice President Mike Pence that he did not mention sanctions on Russia. The leaks were detailed enough to prove that wrong. The amount of effort that went into the leak was prodigious, according to a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill who works in intelligence.
The leaker would have not only have to have access to the transcripts of the Russian ambassador, but power to “unmask” Flynn, who would have been initially protected by U.S. law.
The seriousness of the leaks involving Flynn helped build tremendous disappointment on Monday, when FBI Director James Comey, acting oddly as usual, said he could not even confirm an investigation into the leaks.
A former intelligence operative told LifeZette that the leaks of Flynn’s name show possible political intent, from the start of the intel gathering all the way through. The former intel operative says he wonders who at the FBI or the National Security Agency received emails or calls from the National Security Council or the White House about the Flynn meeting. The former intel operative says normally, any intelligence professional, especially a manager, would recognize that the collection of Flynn’s data, even in the incidental fashion as they followed the Russian ambassador, would be so laced with political danger to their agency that they would “run away” from it. Or they would notify the relevant oversight committees at Congress, to protect everyone concerned.
Instead, the information got leaked to the media, to damage Flynn.
What if the shoe had been on the other foot?
What if, the former intel operative wondered, the Bush administration’s National Security Council had received incidental collection on the Obama campaign in late 2008, and not informed the congressional oversight committees?
There would be hell to pay, he said.
So what is the media doing in 2017? They are asking for more leaks of classified documents. Some newspapers have even set up anonymous online “dropboxes.” And the Democrats? They are nowhere to be seen on the issue.