Multitude of leaks a sign of rivalries, chaos in White House?

WASHINGTON • Every presidential administration leaks. So far, the Trump White House has gushed.

Unauthorised transcripts of phone conversations between US President Donald Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia went public last week. So did details about the administration's stage-managing of Mr Trump's Supreme Court pick.

Drafts of executive orders, including one that would grant legal protection to people and businesses that discriminate against same-sex married couples on moral or religious grounds, also slipped out.

The leaks have been a bonanza for news organisations, particularly mainstream outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC and the Associated Press.

The pattern suggests the leakers are seeking not just wide distribution of confidential information but are hoping to gain the credibility conveyed by establishment news organisations - the very news outlets that Mr Trump has frequently derided as purveyors of "fake news". They also suggest the extent of rivalries within Mr Trump's inner circle.

Smaller news outlets have tapped into the leaky pipeline, too.

The Nation magazine, primarily known for its liberal commentary, reported last week the draft of an executive order that would permit "sweeping" discrimination of gay and transgender people based on religious or moral objections.

The leaks of Mr Trump's calls to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto may have been the most surprising of all. It is rare for transcripts of presidential phone calls or details of meetings with foreign leaders, especially potentially embarrassing exchanges, to leak so soon afterward.

"Given Trump's erratic nature and lack of experience especially in foreign affairs, these leaks may be more important than ever," says Mr David Corn, a Mother Jones magazine reporter. "They give us a sense of how he's doing his job" and what important advisers such as Mr Stephen Bannon and Mr Jared Kushner are telling him to do.

Some reporters say the leaks reflect a certain degree of chaos within the new administration but others see the leaks as whistleblowing - an effort to expose Mr Trump's initiatives before they become policy.

Of course, the leaks could also be trial balloons launched by the administration.

"Careful news organisations don't just throw unverified leaks into the world," said Mr David Sanger, a veteran White House and national security reporter for The New York Times. "Reporters want to understand the motives (of the leaker)."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'Multitude of leaks a sign of rivalries, chaos in White House?'. Print Edition | Subscribe