Perhaps the Washington Post was hoping to embarrass President Trump by publishing transcripts of his private, supposedly secure phone calls with the heads of Mexico and Australia.
Yet the story has centered not on Trump’s inartful behind-the-scenes deal-making, but rather on the recklessness and danger of the leaks themselves.
Of all the many leaks coming out of the federal government – most designed purely to injure the president – none are more harmful to the interests of the United States than the leaked transcripts of presidential phone calls.
Even Democrats are aghast at the unprecedented, ominous breach of national security.
“I am alarmed,” Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said. “It doesn’t matter what I think of this president. This is terrible.”
“I would’ve lost my mind if transcripts of Obama’s calls to foreign leaders leaked,” added Tommy Vietor, National Security Council spokesman for President Barack Obama.
It’s indicative of a government that is attempting to sabotage its elected leader. That’s frightening in and of itself.
Moreover, how can the damage from a leaked presidential phone call be calculated or undone? How can any world leader now talk in confidence with the president of the United States – any president of the United States, going forward? Won’t they be fearful that their private conversations could end up on the front page of an American newspaper?
Whoever leaked the transcripts clearly intended to hurt this president. They only hurt the country they serve.
“Foreign leaders need to know they can talk confidentially,” notes conservative writer John Podhoretz.
“Leaking the transcript of a presidential call to a foreign leader is unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous,” conservative David Frum writes in The Atlantic. “It is vitally important that a president be able to speak confidentially – and perhaps even more important that foreign leaders understand that they can reply in confidence.”
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats called the months-long illegal disclosures “the worst compromise of classified information in the nation’s history.”
“No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence or to talk freely in confidence with foreign leaders,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions noted.
Even while saying current leak investigations surpass those of the past three years combined, Sessions last week announced a further crackdown on leaks – including a new counter-intelligence unit within the FBI aimed exclusively at leaks of classified material.
Sessions also seemed to imply that journalists could be targeted for publishing leaked material – even though the Supreme Court ruled in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case that publication of classified material by a free press could not be prevented.
It’s a hollow threat against the press by Sessions – one unworthy of such a fine public servant. His grievance is more properly with the unscrupulous government spooks in his midst.
Certainly, though, access to illegally leaked classified information puts a self-respecting media outlet in the horns of an ethical dilemma. Is it enough to publish something simply because you can? Or should one ask oneself, “to what end”?
Not all cases are created equal, either. The Pentagon Papers were a no-brainer to publish; they revealed covert and duplicitous actions of the Johnson administration in its prosecution of the Vietnam War. In contrast, the only benefit of publishing leaked transcripts of a president’s private phone calls with world leaders is to embarrass him.
Should that not be weighed against the obvious harm?