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Why the “White House Leakers” Should Be Jailed
In the “age of Trump,” more and more top media sources are relying on anonymous leakers as the source of major, controversial news stories. Classified information from phone transcripts to policy discussions have been revealed by news sources who otherwise would not have access to this information.
These leaks should not be tolerated, and here’s why.
Opposition to leaks should be bipartisan
Cracking down on leakers is not about defending President Donald Trump. This is about defending the integrity and function of the executive branch.
Trump has not always been consistent in recognizing the danger that leakers pose to our system of government. As a candidate, Trump told a crowd that “I love WikiLeaks!”
The Left’s current praise of leakers has, likewise, not been consistent.
When former President Barack Obama was in office, he engaged in what The New York Times called a “furious war” against leakers. He prosecuted more leakers than all presidents before him combined.
That the party that is out of power is praising leakers should not be a surprise. Leakers tend to sabotage the party in power. Encouraging such leaks is in the opposition party’s best political interest.
Encouraging leaks is in the opposition party’s best political interest. But such leaks are not in the nation’s best interest.
Several high-profile leaks have occurred in the Trump administration
Several leaks have occurred during Trump’s administration. Just a few examples:
Leaks involving the Russia investigation:
Several leaks allegedly showing the “connections” between people close to Trump and the Russian government have surfaced over the last several months.
These leaks are not surprising, but the number of leakers is.
The New York Times discussed the “endless stream” of articles, fueled by leakers, about Trump’s “Russia connections.” It expressed surprise at one story with “an unusually large number of sources;” rather than the “normal two,” the story quoted nine government officials.
Information about the Russia investigation is not the only information that has been leaked, however.
CIA “black site” prisons:
Earlier this year, an anonymous source leaked a memo calling for a review of Obama’s end of the CIA’s black site prisons. After then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied that the document was legitimate, three anonymous leakers told the media that Spicer was lying.
Calls with foreign governments:
In both February and August, government officials leaked details—even transcripts—of President Trump’s phone conversations with the Prime Minister of Australia and the President of Mexico.
Department of Homeland Security officials leaked an 11-page memo detailing President Trump’s immigration enforcement proposals.
Intelligence withheld from President Trump:
Government officials leaked that intelligence agents had withheld information from President Trump because they were afraid Trump, in turn, would compromise that information.
These leaks are but a small fraction of those that have occurred since President Trump became took office. But these high-profile leaks highlight a major problem that the Trump administration has been dealing with in its infancy:
Some leaks violate the legal obligations of public servants in the executive branch
The nature of the leaks described above makes it clear that leakers are trying to undermine the President.
Whatever one sees as the political value of this approach, these government officials are abdicating their legal and ethical duty to execute the law. A functional executive branch requires confidentiality to protect national interest and security.
First, leaking can violate the law. The Congressional Research Service compiled a list of several types of leaks that violate criminal statutes, including:
- Disclosure of national defense information
- Theft of federal property
- Disclosure of classified information relating to communications activities
- Disclosure of classified information acquired by computer access without authorization
- Disclosing the identity of a secret agent
Additionally, these officials do not hold power in and of themselves. It is the height of bureaucratic arrogance to imagine that an official’s political preference should control the elected president’s agenda.
The president and only the president — not the officials working for him in the Executive Branch — holds the constitutional executive power. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution provides:
The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.
Second, this legal duty is reflected in the ethical guidelines. The Standard of Ethical Conduct for Executive Branch Employees states that employees have an ethical duty to only use government property for authorized purposes:
[Employees have an] affirmative duty to protect and conserve Government property and to use Government property only for authorized purposes
By definition, any leak would involve using government property (i.e. information) for unauthorized purposes. If an official desires to be a whistleblower, he should go through the approved channels and not risk disclosure of confidential government information.
Finally, releasing confidential government information is harmful from a policy perspective. It can discourage our allies from sharing information with us. And it discourages foreign leaders from being candid with us on important foreign policy discussions.
People on both sides of the political aisle should hope that Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, is successful in his war on leaks, and that once exposed, prosecutors will punish leakers appropriately.
Leaks are not a partisan issue. They are an issue of national security and the rule of law.
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