Today the Washington Post published the complete transcripts of calls between President Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia. The purpose of the leak seems simple enough: to prove that Trump lied. Responding to initial leaks claiming that his call with Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was contentious, Trump tweeted this:
Thank you to Prime Minister of Australia for telling the truth about our very civil conversation that FAKE NEWS media lied about. Very nice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2017
In reality, he told Turnbull, “I have had it. I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.” Later, he said, “This is crazy.”
Game, set, match, right? The leak was justified, right? Wrong. Very wrong. My colleague Elliot Kaufman is right — the leak sets a dangerous precedent. The leaker didn’t just break faith with the president, he broke faith with allied foreign leaders who also have their own legitimate interests in confidential communications. Should future presidents and allies now wonder if their communications will be highlighted, dissected, and splashed across the web? The leaker endangered the integrity of presidential communications, and for what? About nine seconds of one day’s news cycle? Congratulations, you just proved for the millionth time that Donald Trump is Donald Trump.
We don’t need illegal leaks to recognize that he’s bombastic and erratic. We can watch him on television. We don’t need illegal leaks to recognize that he makes things up. We see that sad reality unfold day after day. But we do need civil servants who can keep their promises, and we don’t need civil servants subjectively deciding — in their own wisdom — when the rules apply and when they don’t.
I can imagine truly extraordinary circumstances where leaking is necessary and patriotic, but those circumstances would typically also involve resignation and on-the-record testimony. Instead we get conduct that undermines bipartisan faith in American public servants. “By any means necessary” is not and cannot be the guiding principle of political conflict. No one should applaud this leak. It’s shameful and harmful — even when it rebuts a presidential tweet.