Trump can personally put an end to the national security leaks, officials say
President Donald Trump has been besieged by unauthorized disclosures about his administration on almost a daily basis since the transition period, and according to the president's allies and even his critics, it's time for the president to do something about it.
Former CIA Director John Brennan took an unusual stand defending President Trump saying that the leaking of intelligence from officials inside government is damaging U.S. national security.
"What I have found appalling is the number of leaks that have taken place over the last several months," Brennan said Thursday at the SALT conference in Las Vegas.
Those people who are providing classified information to the press, "have to be stopped," he continued. "These individuals who still stay within the government and are leaking this stuff to the press need to be brought to task.”
On Friday, officials told Sinclair Broadcast Group that there are ways that those leaks can be stopped, either by investigating and prosecuting the crime of disclosing classified information, or by getting rid of the people in the Trump administration who are not totally loyal to the president.
In just the past week, the Trump administration has been hit with two major disclosures. On Tuesday, the news emerged that Trump may have released "highly classified" information to Russian government officials during an Oval Office meeting. The reports, confirmed by multiple news outlets, cited anonymous current and former U.S. officials.
Not 24 hours later, reports surfaced of an FBI memo, drafted by the recently fired director of the Bureau James Comey ,alleging that the president asked Comey to drop an investigation into his former national security adviser, Mike Flynn. While The New York Times reporter who originally reported the story did not see the memo, parts of it were read to him by "one of Mr. Comey’s associates."
Both pieces of information were released to the press by anonymous sources and confirmed by numerous outlets.
On Thursday, Sinclair Broadcast Group chief political correspondent Scott Thuman confronted the president directly on the content of the Comey memo. Responding to a point-blank question about whether he asked Comey to shut down the Flynn investigation, Trump replied, "No. No. Next question."
There are two types of leaks that have hit Trump particularly hard in the seven months since he won the election. One is political, and it comes out in reports about pending staff shake-ups, chaos in the West Wing, rumors about top officials quitting, or pre-releasing policy documents. No administration can avoid those leaks. The other, is the disclosure of classified information, an act which is punishable by law.
The source or sources of the national security leaks that have plagued the Trump White House since are not yet known, but members of Congress from both parties said on Friday that they believe those leaks will be investigated in the course of the Department of Justice Russia probe and should be prosecuted if the evidence exists.
The damage from the intelligence leaks has been clear, but according to former Ohio Congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich they are also part of a concerted effort from within government institutions to sink the Trump presidency.
"You have a politicization of the agencies that is resulting in leaks from anonymous unknown people, and the intention is to take down a president," Kucinich said in an interview on Fox News.
He further charged that career government officials are releasing damaging information about the Trump White House out of a desire to "direct the policy of the country" and are willing to run him out of office.
"This is about the political process of the United States of America being under attack by intelligence agencies and individuals in those agencies," he said. "This is about understanding our country is under attack from within."
Allegations that career intelligence professionals are trying to sink the Trump presidency are serious and not inconsistent with President Trump's own beliefs.
On numerous occasions, Trump has implied that the intelligence community and holdovers from the Obama administration, including former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, have handed over classified or damaging information to reporters. The officials named above denied the accusations.
According to a tweet the president sent out earlier this week, he still believes that the intelligence agencies are behind the unauthorized disclosures.
In February, after firing Michael Flynn over leaked transcripts of telephone calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador, Trump tweeted his frustration with former FBI Director Comey and the intelligence community for failing to catch the person responsible for releasing the transcripts.
The FBI is "totally unable to stop the national security 'leakers,'" Trump charged, adding that they "can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself."
Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier (Calif.) who serves on the Intelligence Committee disagreed with the president putting the blame on the intelligence agencies, saying that in her experience, the majority of leaks originate from the White House itself.
"Most leaks don't come from the CIA, they come from the White House. So that has more to do with the discipline of those that serve [President Trump] and he needs to be very clear about what happens to people if they leak," Speier said.
The responsibility belong to Trump and his most trusted advisers and staffers to ensure that classified information stays under wraps, Speier noted. "I'd say to the White House: clean up your house."
That notion of cleaning house was repeated by Republicans like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a long-time supporter of the president. If Trump hopes to tamp down on the unauthorized disclosures that have besieged his administration, he is going to have to make some staff changes and purge the executive agencies of Obama-era officials, the congressman explained.
"There's a strong indication that there are Obama people who have wormed into the [Trump] administration, that have access to some of this information ... that they're passing along," King said. "You've got to shut that off."
Those individuals need to be fired or sidelined from participating in the Trump administration, he recommended. Moreover, Trump's staff needs to keep meticulous records of the individuals who attend meetings where potentially sensitive material is being discussed.
"I'd be happy if we had enough evidence to bring charges and bring convictions" against the sources of the leaks, King said. But for the time being, he suggests the president "get rid of the people who aren't loyal."
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) also emphasized that Trump needs to secure his White House by surrounding himself with people who can be trusted.
"Loyalty among a staff and the freedom to have open and honest debate is critical," he said, "and if you cant have that, that's a real problem."
But the problem of leaks is not just a problem for the president, but also for congressional Republicans who see the disclosures and the oftentimes hysterical media response stealing the political capital they need to accomplish their policy goals.
The Russia investigation or the intelligence disclosures are one thing, Meadows said, "I'm more concerned about policy and where we go as a nation."
Ohio Republican Jim Renacci explained that the attacks on the administration create a distraction, and "destroys the ability to get things done" in the White House and Congress. "The people in our country want us to get our work done," he emphasized. "We have serious issues, tax reform, border security, healthcare. They want us to tackle those."
Rep. King argued that the the people who are releasing damaging information about the White House are "stealing an agenda from the American people" and "bogging down" the administration with scandals.
Trump needs to surround himself with people who are loyal and believe in his agenda, King said. "Otherwise, if they're working against him, they are enemies of the United States because they are subverting the will of the people."