May 13, 2018

White House leakers leak about leaking

President Trump at the White House. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This White House leaks like there’s no tomorrow.

The big picture: The leaks come in all shapes and sizes: small leaks, real-time leaks, weaponized leaks, historical leaks. Sensitive Oval Office conversations have leaked, and so have talks in cabinet meetings and the Situation Room. You name it, they leak it.

  • My colleague Mike Allen, who has spent nearly 20 years covering the White House, says we learn more about what's going on inside the Trump White House in a week than we did in a year of the George W. Bush presidency.
  • This White House leaks so much that meetings called to bemoan leaks begin with acknowledgement the bemoaning will be leaked, which is promptly leaked...by several leakers in a smallish room.

Why does this White House leak like it’s going out of style? I reached out to some of the Trump administration’s most prolific leakers — people who have been wonderful sources to me (and, I assume, plenty of other reporters) — to get them to explain the draw.

  • "To be honest, it probably falls into a couple of categories,” one current White House official tells me. "The first is personal vendettas. And two is to make sure there's an accurate record of what's really going on in the White House."
  • "To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers' idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me," the current White House official added.
  • "The most common substantive leaks are the result of someone losing an internal policy debate," a current senior administration official told me. "By leaking the decision, the loser gets one last chance to kill it with blowback from the public, Congress or even the President."
  • "Otherwise," the official added, "you have to realize that working here is kind of like being in a never-ending 'Mexican Standoff.' Everyone has guns (leaks) pointed at each other and it's only a matter of time before someone shoots. There's rarely a peaceful conclusion so you might as well shoot first."

A former senior White House official who turned leaking into an art form made a slightly more nuanced defense of the practice. "Leaking is information warfare; it's strategic and tactical — strategic to drive narrative, tactical to settle scores,” the source said.

  • Another former administration official said grudges have a lot to do with it. "Any time I leaked, it was out of frustration with incompetent or tone-deaf leadership,” the former official said.
  • “Bad managers almost always breed an unhappy workplace, which ultimately results in pervasive leaking," the former official added. "And there has been plenty of all those things inside this White House. Some people use leaking to settle personal scores, or even worse to attack the President, but for me it was always to make a point about something that I felt was being unjustly ignored by others."

Be smart: To any would-be leakers who are considering the practice, I'm also told leaking is pretty fun. Give me a call if you'd like to try it out.

Go deeper

Boris Johnson in intensive care as coronavirus symptoms worsen

Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being treated in the intensive care unit of St. Thomas' Hospital in London due to increasingly severe coronavirus symptoms.

What they're saying: Cabinet minister Michael Gove told LBC radio on Tuesday morning Johnson was not on a ventilator. "The prime minister has received some oxygen support and he is kept under, of course, close supervision," he said.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 29 mins ago - World

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,348,184— Total deaths: 74,834 — Total recoveries: 284,802Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 368,376 — Total deaths: 10,989 — Total recoveries: 19,828Map.
  3. Trump administration latest: President Trump's economic adviser Peter Navarro warned White House colleagues in late January the coronavirus could take over half a million American lives and cost close to $6 trillion, memos obtained by Axios show.
  4. 2020 update: Wisconsin Supreme Court blocks governor's attempt to delay in-person primary voting delayed until June.
  5. States latest: West Coast states send ventilators to New York and other states with more immediate need — Data suggest coronavirus curve may be flattening in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
  6. World update: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to intensive care as coronavirus symptoms worsen.
  7. Stocks latest: The S&P 500 closed up 7% on Monday, while the Dow rose more than 1,500 points.
  8. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll nears 11,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 10,900 in the U.S. early Tuesday, per Johns Hopkins data. More than 1,000 people in the U.S. have died of coronavirus-related conditions each day since April 1.

Why it matters: U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Sunday this week will be "the hardest and saddest week of most Americans' lives" — calling it our "our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11 moment."

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health