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Stunning Oval Office leak: Aides fight in front of Trump — about leaks

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Shortly after word leaked that Kelly Sadler had taken a nasty shot at John McCain, President Trump convened a meeting in the Oval Office for a tiny group of communications staffers, according to sources familiar with the gathering. Sadler, Mercedes Schlapp, Raj Shah, and John Kelly all gathered in front of the Resolute Desk for a conversation with Trump about the leaking problem. They were the only people in the room, though the door to the outer Oval was open. 

What happened: The president told Sadler she wouldn’t be fired for her remark. He added, separately in the conversation, that he’s no fan of McCain. Then Trump, who had grown obsessed with the leaking problem, told Sadler he wanted to know who the leakers were. Sadler then stunned the room: To be completely honest, she said, she thought one of the worst leakers was Schlapp, her boss.

  • Schlapp pushed back aggressively and defended herself in the room. And in follow up conversations after the meeting, some of Schlapp’s colleagues also came to her defense. (In a prior meeting, she had said, "You can put this on the record: I stand with Kelly Sadler"). Sadler went on to name other people she also suspected of being leakers.
  • The allegation — like a previous internal meeting to deal with leaking — ultimately got leaked to us.

Be smart: Trump administration officials have told me that "X is a leaker" has in this White House become synonymous with "I don’t like X." Everyone knows the leaker accusation has become the most powerful weapon you can wield against somebody you don't like, especially to Trump.

  • No one ever says "X leaked Y, and here's the evidence." It's just "X is a leaker."
  • If White House officials had a shred of evidence their colleagues were leakers then the colleagues would be perp walked off the premises immediately. Now, saying it in front of Trump is taking it to the next level.

Go deeper: White House leakers leak about leaking.

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