1. Opinion

Ruth: Good luck stopping government leaks

Published Aug. 7, 2017

It's merely idle speculation, but when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was going to morph into the Inspector Javert of Washington to ferret out moles in every corner of government I imagine the capital press corps had to stifle the temptation to break out into a chorus of guffaws.

Leakers are the mother's milk of journalism. It has been so since Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson leaked unflattering information about his arch rival, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, to reporter James Callender, who was sort of the Alex Jones of colonial America.

Jefferson was quite adept at this Deep Throat business, even penning a 4,000 word lie-filled treatise to President George Washington and passionately denying he had anything to do with exposing Hamilton's philandering ways. How might we view Jefferson? As a Founding Obfuscator?

What a difference a few months and a presidential election make. During the 2016 campaign, candidate Donald Trump proclaimed, "I love Wikileaks!" He begged for more, especially if the dirt undermined Hillary Clinton. Ah — irony.

In announcing he was about to become Dawg, the Beltway bounty hunter of loose lips, Sessions noted his office is pursuing three times as many leak investigations than were opened during the Obama administration.

Thank goodness for disgruntled employees with security clearances.

There's a simple reason for this. In just six months of the Trump era, there's easily three times as much stuff to leak to the press. This chap is more than just the president. Trump is the Commander-In-Fodder for TMZ.

If Trump wants to tamp down on leaks, the first thing he needs to do is shut up. It was Trump himself who during an Oval Office meeting blabbed to the Russian foreign minister about how U.S. intelligence had disrupted a potential ISIS terrorist attack. This was not exactly a "For Your Eyes Only" moment.

There is nothing illegal about a news organization reporting on White House internal dysfunction, the feuds between Trump apparatchiks and plots to scuttle the careers of one adviser or another. And that's just before Trump gets out of bed. Machiavelli wasn't this Machiavellian.

If Trump wants to stanch the endless flow of leaks detailing the crazy stuff he says and does, it might be useful to stop doing and saying crazy stuff. It's merely a suggestion.

Sessions' efforts to transform himself into the Torquemada of anonymous sources eventually will result in some poor Sad Sack government employee getting caught telling Anderson Cooper that the president thinks chief strategist Steve Bannon should stop wearing jackboots to work.

But Washington is a big city. The federal government is even bigger.

Government officials have been leaking to the media since Ben Franklin was in knickers.

It's rather doubtful Sessions channelling his inner Columbo will find much to eventually prosecute. Or think of it this way. Leakers leak for a variety of reasons. Some do it to feel important. Others do it to right a wrong. Still others leak to settle a grudge.

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Indeed, Washington's motto ought to be that old Alice Roosevelt Longworth quote: "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."

But very few leakers would be stupid enough to use a government computer to pass along documents to a reporter, or use a federal phone to ring up the Washington Post to dish.

Sessions has threatened to go after reporters to unmask the leakers. Good luck with that. See you in court — forever. It's a First Amendment thing. Sessions wouldn't understand.

Perhaps nothing reflected the challenge of ending leaking than the front page of the New York Times last week.

Down the right side of the page was coverage of the attorney general noting how steamed he was over the leaks and that heads would roll. How inspiring.

Down the left side of the page was a story, citing unnamed sources, detailing how special prosecutor Robert Mueller III had demanded documents from the White House to try to determine if former national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn secretly received payments from Turkey.

Where did the story come from? Only the shadow knows.

And the shadow is very busy these days.


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