Law & the Courts

Trump’s Flaws Don’t Justify Illegal Leaks

President Trump at a White House press conference, February 16, 2017. (Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)
The leakers are not patriots; they’re saboteurs.

It may be tiresome and whiny, but there’s a reason President Donald Trump keeps reminding us that he won the election. We’re almost a month into his presidency and somehow we’re still discussing whether he should have been elected. The questions about his fitness were serious enough that many conservatives refused to vote for him. But from the moment he took office, the only relevant questions about Trump have been whether his policies are sound and well executed.

Instead, his opponents are still spending an inordinate amount of time telling us something we already knew: Donald Trump is not an ordinary president and the things he says and tweets are often offensive, foolish, and/or untrue. As he proved twice this week at press conferences, he can’t even answer straightforward questions about anti-Semitism and racism — the sorts of questions any normal politician would consider softballs — without treating the query as a personal insult and an excuse to rant about the press rather than say the few simple words that would put the matter to rest.

As the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne put it yesterday, it is Trump’s “approach to leadership” that is the core reason his opponents are determined to “resist” his government and topple it. That’s why they regard the leaks of secret surveillance tapes and transcripts of Michael Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador as not merely convenient but completely justified.

The controversy over alleged contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians is worth investigating. But since the key point in the New York Times report on the matter was that nothing the intelligence community has discovered points to any collusion between the Trump team and the Kremlin, the leaks that brought it all to light weren’t some patriotic attempt to inform the public that Trump’s or Flynn’s loyalty was in question; they were an attempt to embarrass and undermine the new administration.

RELATED: Make the Flynn Tape Public

Those who point out Trump’s hypocritical response to the leaks are not wrong. On the stump during the campaign, he was positively gleeful in describing the e-mails written by John Podesta and DNC officials and published by WikiLeaks. But liberals have engaged in the same hypocrisy, screaming bloody murder about WikiLeaks while touting each new anonymously sourced revelation about the Trump administration.

The key question of the moment isn’t whether this is a president who offends the sensibilities even of many of those who would like to support him. It’s whether any of this justifies government employees’ efforts to take down a sitting president with classified leaks. Whether or not you despise Trump, the answer to that question must be “no.”

RELATED: Donald Trump and Russia — What Do We Really Know?

Writers such as Dionne have a right to think Trump is unfit to be president. But there is nothing laudable about the anti-Trump resistance’s moving from street protests to the offices of disgruntled government officials, especially those tasked with protecting the nation’s secrets. The willingness of the intelligence community to take out Flynn with a flurry of leaks ought to scare all Americans. In the absence of evidence that Flynn’s conduct was illegal, these leaks must be viewed as part of a policy dispute rather than as an effort to protect American national security.

The willingness of the intelligence community to take out Flynn with a flurry of leaks ought to scare all Americans.

The intelligence community is right to worry about Trump’s puzzling crush on Vladimir Putin and his desire to appease the Russians rather than to confront them. Many conservatives rightly share those concerns. But even if Trump’s coddling of Putin is naïve or worse, that doesn’t put government employees who use illegal leaking to hamstring his efforts on a higher moral plane than the president.

Perhaps Trump will be so unpopular as to cost Republicans control of Congress next year, unlikely though that still seems. But when the political opposition becomes a “resistance” that believes any means are justifiable if they damage Trump’s standing with the public, arguments that the president is a danger to the republic ring false.

It will ultimately be up to the voters to decide Trump’s political fate. In the meantime, those who seek to short-circuit the democratic process and deny him a chance to govern — even if it means breaking the law — should be condemned, not cheered.

— Jonathan S. Tobin is a contributor to National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter @jonathans_tobin.

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