Republicans Should Spend Less Time Worrying About Leaks, More Time Doing Their Job

Republicans on Capitol Hill worried about all the leaking coming from the Trump White House would be wise to actually do the oversight the Constitution compels them to do.

With the exception of people like John McCain, most Republicans have responded to the reports that President Trump ignored instructions from top foreign policy aides to not congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his questionable election win by emphasizing the fact that someone close to the President leaked the story to The Washington Post. This is, understandably I suppose, especially true of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was “furious” over the leaks. Similar sentiments were expressed by a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who called the leaks “more of an outrage” than Trump’s congratulatory phone call.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, though, argues that Kelly, Rubio, and other Republicans are focusing on the wrong problem:

[N]ormally presidents should expect loyalty and confidentiality. There is no question that when it comes to classified material, leaks are a serious threat to national security. And presidents do get to pick their staff and Cabinet (subject to the Senate’s approval) in order to get the best advice they can from the people they trust the most. However, if the president goes through staff at an unprecedented rate, can only get blabbermouths to work for him and cannot gain their trust, there is a bigger problem here.

The leaking, backbiting and constant staff churn are symptoms of the real problem, namely a president who does not command loyalty (in large part because he shows none), who publicly rips aides, who makes rash decisions that imperil the country’s standing in the world, who has an unexplained and dangerous level of deference to a hostile power, who has set out to tear down the institutions of democracy (the press, independent courts, a professional civil service) and who lies (and directs his staff to lie) so constantly that the public, including Congress, really has little idea what is going on inside the White House. The problem, in short, is the president and not the people spiriting tidbits of information out of the entirely dysfunctional and duplicitous West Wing. And to the extent this president cannot attract loyal, decent, expert and careful staff, perhaps the better question is why loyal, decent, expert and careful people don’t want to work for him.

It is also worth noting that in this White House the leaks have been remarkably accurate. You’ll notice that the leaks on “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” on Rob Porter’s security-clearance problem and on just about every major development all surfaced accurate information. White House aides aren’t spreading lies; they are spreading the truth — which the White House constantly tries to conceal under a torrent of “alternate facts.”

Moreover, if we actually had proper oversight from the GOP-controlled House and Senate, those in the White House who are leaking out of a patriotic concern about the country’s survival could rest assured that the truth would come out in the normal course of events. But here, the GOP has abdicated their oversight role. Republicans opposed an independent commission on the Russia scandal. House Republicans ran a fake investigation in which they didn’t bother to interview key witnesses or obtain relevant documents before exonerating the president. Not a single hearing has been held on the president’s dizzying array of conflicts, his receipt of foreign emoluments or his family members’ conflicts.

Rubin is correct in her initial comment that Presidents have a right to expect loyalty from those working for them, especially those who work closely with him or Chief of Staff John Kelly or who have access to the Oval Office when appropriate. In that regard, leaking material even when it is not classified undermines the trust between the President and his staff because it leads to a situation where the President can’t be sure if the people he’s talking to are going to keep confidences, or whether they will end up using whatever information they may have access to as a result of those contacts with the President. The argument here is particularly strong when it comes to the release of potentially classified information, of course, since in that case the person engaging in the leaking is potentially violating the law by passing along information to reporters in violation of the law. Even in the case of non-classified information, though, leaks can be damaging because they lead to a situation where the President cannot be assured that something he says to an aide, or something that happens inside the White House, will remain within the walls of the White House. For that reason, there ought to be investigations to determine who is doing the leaking, although the fact that there has been so much leaking from this White House makes it likely that it would be difficult if not impossible to put a complete stop to the practice.

All that being said, it seems fairly clear that we wouldn’t be seeing this leaking if it weren’t for the fact that there seem to be a significant number of people in senior White House positions who are concerned enough about what’s going on before their eyes to be willing to contact a reporter and spill the beans on the President. To be sure, in  some of these cases we are dealing with people who may be leaking to advance their own careers, undercut some other member of the President’s staff, or even just to curry favor with a reporter, but it also seems clear that at least part of the motivation behind the fact that this Administration is leaking faster than a 100-year-old busted water main is the fact that there are people on the inside who are concerned about what they’re seeing unfold in front of their faces on a daily basis.

Much of this wouldn’t be happening if, as Rubin notes, Republicans Republicans on Capitol Hill were doing a better job when it comes to oversight. With the notable exception of cases that can probably be counted on one hand, Congress has been woefully deficient in fulfilling its oversight role when it comes to this Administration, and certainly can’t be said to be investigating the Trump Administration with the same aggressiveness that it did the Obama Administration. The best example of this can be seen in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and any possible collusion or other contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials or go-betweens. Just over a week ago, that committee announced that it was ending its investigation and President Trump hailed the decision, claiming that it had established that there was no collusion. In reality, of course, this isn’t true, and the Republican leading the investigation was forced to admit that the committee didn’t really look into the collusion angle at all. This isn’t oversight it’s phoniness, and Republicans ought to be ashamed of it. Rather than seeking to defend the Administration, Republicans on Capitol Hill ought to be doing the same kind of vigorous oversight they did during the Obama Administration, Maybe if their jobs when it comes to oversight rather than reflexively defending the Administration at every turn,  many of these leakers would be less motivated to pick up the phone and call a reporter every time something outrageous happens in the White House.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Intelligence, National Security, Politicians, Presidency, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    As I see it, the problem is Combover Caligula reacts to any criticism, regardless of intention, as if it were a vicious, unjustified personal attack. He reacts to any investigation into his affairs, no matter the intention, as a with hunt (he even calls them that). And in either case he goes on the offensive with his full repertoire of invective, disqualifications, ridicule, threats, etc. that his base, and a fair number of GOP voters, eat up with a spoon.

    Ergo any Republican that dares criticize Trump, or who dares to seriously investigate him, can be guaranteed to lose reelection.

    Democrats can get away with it because few Republicans would vote for them anyway, and because outside of his base Trump has an acute disapproval rating. But don’t expect spineless Republicans to get in his way just because he’s destroying the country’s foundations. That’s nothing compared to losing the next election.

    Maybe a whooping drubbing at the polls this midterm will provide an easing of symptoms, maybe not. But until then, the republicans in Congress assume that even mildly criticizing Trump will insure their drubbing at the polls.




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  2. gVOR08 says:

    Congress has been woefully deficient in fulfilling its oversight role when it comes to this Administration, and certainly can’t be said to be investigating the Trump Administration with the same aggressiveness that it did the Obama Administration.

    Doug Mataconis, master of understatement, strikes again. I don’t think we need the same aggressiveness we saw from the Republican congress during the Obama administration. Investigating real, obvious offenses would be sufficient.




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  3. MBunge says:

    So, the problem is not a concerted effort by federal bureaucrats to undermine and delegitimize the legally elected President of the United States? That’s not something anyone should be worried about?

    Aren’t you supposed to be some sort of Libertarian, or at least Libertarian-ish? Or is that another thing sacrificed in the anti-Trump Jihad.

    Mike




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  4. Dmichael says:

    I don’t doubt that many if not most of the leaks have come from staff in the White House but have you considered the fact that Trump is a big blabber, frequently phoning his friends to rant and or boast. He may be the source of many of these leaks.




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  5. CSK says:

    @Dmichael:

    I don’t discount at all the possibility that some of the leaks have come from the people Trump phones.




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  6. An Interested Party says:

    So, the problem is not a concerted effort by federal bureaucrats to undermine and delegitimize the legally elected President of the United States?

    And if those who are leaking are Trump’s people, what does that say about his judgement? Oh wait, he congratulates and praises dictators, so we know all we need to know about his judgement…




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  7. Kathy says:

    Today is a good example. While the National Security Adviser does not require confirmation by the Senate, Congress ought to make it clear funding for a new major war requires explicit Congressional approval. Name Iran and North
    Korea if necessary.




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  8. Bruce Henry says:

    “So, the problem is not a concerted effort by federal bureaucrats to undermine and delegitimize the legally elected President of the United States? That’s not something anyone should be worried about?”

    No, that’s decidedly NOT “the problem.” The problem is Trump himself, as is clear to anyone with eyes, ears, and literacy.

    Ridiculous “deep state” crackpot hooey.




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  9. steve says:

    “So, the problem is not a concerted effort by federal bureaucrats to undermine and delegitimize the legally elected President of the United States? That’s not something anyone should be worried about?”

    Nope, it is Trump’s White House. He, or his representatives hired the people who work there who are leaking. It is Trump’s ineptitude that lets the leaking happen. It is his inability to establish trust and confidence along with his incompetence that makes HIS people want to leak.

    Steve




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  10. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @MBunge: If your posts hadn’t started having mild entertainment value as witless comedy of the sort that Larry the Cable Guy does, I would still not be reading–and then downvoting–them.

    “Git ‘er duuhnn!”




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  11. Mikey says:

    @MBunge:

    So, the problem is not a concerted effort by federal bureaucrats to undermine and delegitimize the legally elected President of the United States? That’s not something anyone should be worried about?

    Your factless, cultism-driven fantasy isn’t something the rest of us worry about, so no.

    the anti-Trump Jihad

    And here we have the prize for the stupidest thing you’ve ever posted. And that’s a mighty high (low?) bar.




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  12. Mikey says:

    Well, isn’t this interesting?

    ‘Lone DNC Hacker’ Guccifer 2.0 Slipped Up and Revealed He Was a Russian Intelligence Officer

    Guccifer 2.0, the “lone hacker” who took credit for providing WikiLeaks with stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, was in fact an officer of Russia’s military intelligence directorate (GRU), The Daily Beast has learned. It’s an attribution that resulted from a fleeting but critical slip-up in GRU tradecraft.




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  13. MarkedMan says:

    This speaks to a larger, decades long problem with Republicans, one that is rampant in elected officials but also rife in Republican voters. The party has become the refuge of the lazy. Over the years, People who are interested in understanding and solving issues have drifted away from the party. People whose world view basically boils down to “My team right or wrong!” Have found their home. They replaced all deep thought with mindless slogans pushed forward by billionaire hobbyists, racist demagogues and whatever the heck the Republican news media is. They mouth these moronic phrases, then get down to the real fun, sabatoging their “enemies”, and the country in the process.

    I’m not saying this behavior is limited to Republicans. My rule of thumb was that 15% of representatives were actual idiots, 75% followers, and 10% people who took the time to deeply understand the issues. That’s probably still true in the Democratic Party, but the Republicans have lost that vital 10% and upped their share of idiots to 30%.

    I’m also not saying that the Repubs don’t have people capable of deep understanding and rational policy development, but rather those few aren’t interested. They employ their talents in figuring out ever more vicious ways to screw their opponents and kick the little guy. And this is where the Republican voters share the responsibility, because there used to be solid Republican legislators. But the people who became the loyal Republicans drove them from office. Ever since Reagan rode to electoral success by promising that all the difficult problems had easy solutions the lazy have streamed into the Republican club house.




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  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MBunge:

    So, the problem is not a concerted effort by federal bureaucrats to undermine and delegitimize the legally elected President of the United States?

    Otherwise known as following the law.

    Also I noticed that you described trump as “the legally elected President of the United States” and not the “legitimate President of the USA”. Nice touch. There is hope for you after all.




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  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Republicans on Capitol Hill ought to be doing the same kind of vigorous oversight they did during the Obama Administration,

    Oh and Doug? I have to disagree with this. I don’t want 16 fake investigations (preceded by one serious investigation) in order to keep an unpleasant thing in the news (as with BENGHAZIIIIII!!!!) just one or 2 (if both Senate and House feel so compelled) serious investigations of the Russia thing. 1 or 2 serious investigations of money laundering. One or 2 serious investigations of violations of the emoluments clause. One or 2 serious investigations of ad infinitum.




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  16. gVOR08 says:

    Republicans … would be wise to actually do the oversight the Constitution compels them to do.

    There are no Constitution Police. Only elections can “compel” them. Vote Blue.




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  17. JohnMcC says:

    @Mikey: Proving that the Obama administration was snaking their agents into place in the Russian Army Intelligence Service in order to sabotage the future Pres Trump. That diabolical deep state has an infernal array of hellish tricks. It’s only a matter of time until impeachment, unless the best people strike first! Let the purges begin!

    See how that works?




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  18. al-Ameda says:

    @MBunge:

    So, the problem is not a concerted effort by federal bureaucrats to undermine and delegitimize the legally elected President of the United States? That’s not something anyone should be worried about?

    Those people leaking all manner of information about Trump are HIS OWN STAFF, not federal bureaucrats, not fever-dream fictional ‘deep state’ civil service employees of the departments of the federal government.

    That concludes this regularly scheduled “Get In Touch With Reality Moment”




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  19. Barry says:

    @MBunge: “So, the problem is not a concerted effort by federal bureaucrats to undermine and delegitimize the legally elected President of the United States? That’s not something anyone should be worried about?”

    Birthers say ‘what?’




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