A job for ded­i­cated plumbers

Leak­ers who risk na­tional catas­tro­phe de­serve swift and cer­tain pun­ish­ment

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

At­tor­ney Gen. Jeff Ses­sions de­clared war, or at least a skir­mish, on leak­ers last week, and it’s about time. Leak­ers grow like weeds in Wash­ing­ton, and it was ever thus, but it’s out of hand when The Wash­ing­ton Post prints leaked tran­scripts of the pres­i­dent’s tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions with for­eign heads of state. Even Democrats say so, even if us­ing the oc­ca­sion to slip an­other nee­dle into the pres­i­dent, or mock Mr. Ses­sions’ mo­tives.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral told a Friday press con­fer­ence that he “con­demns in the strong­est terms the stag­ger­ing num­ber of leaks un­der­min­ing the abil­ity of our govern­ment to pro­tect the coun­try.” He dis­closed that the FBI, which an­swers to him, has es­tab­lished a new coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence unit to man­age the pur­suit of the leak­ers. He said he would bring crim­i­nal charges against any­one who leaks clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

The pub­li­ca­tion of the tran­scrip­tions of the pres­i­dent’s tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions with Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto of Mex­ico and Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Trum­bull of Aus­tralia early in his pres­i­dency has set many teeth on edge in Wash­ing­ton, of both Democrats and Repub­li­cans. “I am alarmed at leaks of con­ver­sa­tions be­tween two heads of state,” says Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a Demo­crat, “and it doesn’t mat­ter what I think of this pres­i­dent, this is ter­ri­ble.”

“I would have lost my mind if tran­scripts of Barack Obama’s calls to for­eign lead­ers leaked,” says Tommy Vic­tor, who was a spokesman for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. “[Mr. Obama] wouldn’t have sounded so dumb, but it’s ab­surd.” David Frum, a speech­writer for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and now a se­nior edi­tor at At­lantic mag­a­zine, ob­serves that the leaked tran­scripts “seem care­fully se­lected to do max­i­mum harm to [Mr.] Trump, min­i­mum harm to his for­eign in­ter­locu­tors. Some­body thought about this.”

The at­tor­ney gen­eral’s warn­ing must be en­forced to be ef­fec­tive. The leak­ers — whether warmed-over of­fi­cials from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion who still dream of re­vers­ing the election re­sult, or dis­loyal ap­pointees of Mr. Trump out to make a name for them­selves — are con­vinced they’re do­ing God’s work by crip­pling the new ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Re­gard­less of one’s pol­i­tics or rea­sons be­hind the leak,” says John Kirby, spokesman for the State Depart­ment when Hil­lary Clin­ton was the Sec­re­tary of State, “[leaks are] dan­ger­ous to our for­eign pol­icy.” Ned Price, who served on Pres­i­dent Obama’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, says pub­lish­ing the leaked tran­scripts are “be­yond the pale and will have a chill­ing ef­fect on the abil­ity of the com­man­der in chief to have can­did dis­cus­sions with his coun­ter­parts.”

In­deed, the dam­age will out­last this pres­i­dent. A prece­dent has been es­tab­lished. Never again will lead­ers feel able to speak openly to each other. This has grave im­pli­ca­tions for Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy and na­tional se­cu­rity. Would The Wash­ing­ton Post or an­other news­pa­per print a tran­script of a con­ver­sa­tion about, for ex­am­ple, highly sen­si­tive top­ics, like North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram? Sad to say, a man care­ful with his cash wouldn’t bet against it. No one dis­putes a news­pa­per’s right to print what­ever it re­gards as news, but ded­i­ca­tion to the First Amend­ment does not re­quire a news­pa­per to be irresponsible.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Demo­crat on the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, calls the leaked tran­scripts “dis­grace­ful,” and ob­serves that “a pres­i­dent of the United States [has] got to be able to have con­fi­den­tial con­ver­sa­tions.” He sug­gests a con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but Wash­ing­ton needs an­other in­ves­ti­ga­tion like an­other pot­hole or more graf­fiti on the na­tional mon­u­ments.

Mr. Ses­sions is the man with the power and au­thor­ity fix the leak­ing, with felony ar­rests of just one or two leak­ers to make ex­am­ples, parad­ing them in hand­cuffs in the fa­mil­iar perp walk. Se­vere, and maybe harsh, but un­der­min­ing the govern­ment at a par­tic­u­larly tense time de­mands harsh pun­ish­ment.

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