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Trump White House Leaks: Done On Purpose Or Lack Of Loyalty?


Here are two realities about President Trump's administration.


One reality is the president has held few news conferences, he has made many false statements and often spends more energy reliving his victory than explaining his views.

INSKEEP: Yet, the other reality is we seem to learn a lot about what the administration is doing.

GREENE: We've heard about his contentious phone calls with American allies. We've heard when Cabinet secretaries disagree with him.

INSKEEP: And draft versions of executive orders frequently leak to the media. The leaks themselves tell us something about governing in America. And Jonah Goldberg of National Review is here to talk about that. Jonah, good morning.

JONAH GOLDBERG: It's great to be here.

INSKEEP: So what does it say that so many people are leaking so much? I don't know that this is more leaks than ever with some other administration, but it feels like a lot of leaks.

GOLDBERG: It does feel like a lot of leaks and a lot of important leaks. I'm against monocausal theories of any of this.


GOLDBERG: I think there are a lot of different things going on. I think, first of all, the White House is fairly chaotic. It's the only part of the government that's really staffed up right now. And Donald Trump likes to pit people against each other. He tends to listen to the last person he talked to. And right now, if you talk to people, it sounds like the West Wing is sort of like the court of the Borgia popes, and everyone's trying to poison each other, and everyone is trying to backstab each other. And so there's a lot of vengeful leaking against rivals.

INSKEEP: This is like Renaissance Italy.


INSKEEP: This is like hardcore politics you're talking about.

GOLDBERG: That's right. I mean, lots of, you know, people - lots of sort of move-the-poison-cup Vizzini "Princess Bride" kind of things going on.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GOLDBERG: And so I think that's part of it. There's just - there's a lot of sort of power competition going on and multiple people playing different - the same role.

INSKEEP: And the way that they compete for power in part is by leaking things to the media.

GOLDBERG: By undermining each other. Then there - I think there's a secondary thing going on that, for a lot of the sort of permanent-government, high-level, public-servant bureaucrats and that kind of stuff - policymakers - they see the Trump administration the same way sort of the local villagers would see when the - Napoleon's forces would come in and use the local church as a stable. And they are greatly offended by the incoming administration, and they relish the ability to leak and embarrass the administration.

INSKEEP: And we're laughing here, but there are people in the government who surely think this administration is a grave threat. And James Fallows of The Atlantic was writing the day that these are purposeful, high-level leaks which carry a message - send help.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, no, I think there's definitely - that is definitely part of it. And then there's also a third variable here, which is that one of the ways that Trump's team gets information or arguments into the president's head is by going through the media. And so...

INSKEEP: Because he pays more attention to the media than to them directly?

GOLDBERG: There is that theory out there. We know for a fact that he has responded to stories on, say, "Fox & Friends..."


GOLDBERG: ...And then immediately tweeted something that seemed like a non sequitur unless you rolled back the tape 14 minutes to what he happened to be watching on "Fox & Friends." And so when you put all of these things together, it seems only normal that it would seem chaotic because it is chaotic. But I don't think you can say, oh, all of his leaks have one cause.

INSKEEP: OK, so lots of things are happening. Sometimes the president has had to respond to the leaks themselves. Just yesterday, he played down a leak about some of his contentious phone calls with foreign leaders like the prime minister of Australia. Let's listen.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When you hear about the tough phone calls I'm having, don't worry about it. Just don't worry about it. They're tough. We have to be tough. It's time - we're going to be a little tough, folks. We're taken advantage of by every nation in the world, virtually. It's not going to happen anymore. It's not going to happen anymore.

INSKEEP: You know, sometimes presidents hate leaks and hate having to respond to them, and sometimes they may really love leaks or even be the source of leaks.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, no, there's - that's option four, which is that some of these things are done intentionally because they want a certain storyline to get out. I should say about what Donald Trump said there - I get this notion that some countries are taking advantage of us and how some global institutions aren't to our advantage, and there's some merit to those arguments. But to say this in the context of Australia I thought was remarkably inappropriate.

INSKEEP: One of the closest U.S. allies that there is in the world.

GOLDBERG: That's right. And I get that Donald Trump doesn't like the deal that Barack Obama cut with the Australians, but...

INSKEEP: To let some refugees from there into here.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. But to imply that Australia is taking advantage of us I think was a bad idea.

INSKEEP: Jonah, is there something small-D democratic about all of this leaking? I mean, we assume it's a pejorative thing, that it's kind of a noxious thing, but it actually lets the public into the process. It lets people debate things in a way that can be really constructive.

GOLDBERG: Well, that is certainly the argument people made about Wikileaks.


GOLDBERG: And I think there's some merit to that, but the problem is - and, look, I like leaks. As a journalist, I like leaks. As a Washington gossip, I like leaks. But at the same time, there is a problem about, you know, half lies are more persuasive than whole lies, that a partial truth can really mislead people.

INSKEEP: Which is what a lot of these anonymous sources are perhaps passing.

GOLDBERG: Right. And so when you only get part of the story, the entire Washington media flocks to the only facts that they get. And those - and if those facts don't tell you the whole story, it can actually lead everybody in the wrong direction.

INSKEEP: Well, Jonah, thanks for trying to lead us in the right direction this morning. I really appreciate it.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Jonah Goldberg of National Review. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.