Washington, DC – It is becoming a near-daily occurrence. Leaks from inside US President Donald Trump’s White House have both riled and undermined its current occupant and his administration.
But a Wednesday opinion piece in The New York Times, penned anonymously by a senior administration official who is highly critical of Trump, has taken leaking to a new level.
Leaks are nothing new at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. US President Richard Nixon’s Justice Department took The New York Times and Washington Post to court over the Pentagon Papers, leaked documents showing the US had doubts about its military intervention in Vietnam.
Former President George W Bush’s White House was rocked by scandal after the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame was leaked to the media following her husband’s criticism of the administration’s justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Still, the latest op-ed is unprecedented, something the Times noted in its preamble to the piece. It follows 20 months of constant revelations that continue to surprise.
Here are the top six leaks from the Trump White House:
Less than a month into his presidency, Trump was forced to fire his national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The whole controversy started after leaks to the media that Flynn had spoken with the Russian ambassador during the transition time between the election and the inauguration, an interaction that raised questions about the Trump team’s improper contact with foreign governments.
For weeks, Trump and White House officials denied Flynn had ever spoken with the Russian government. Vice President Mike Pence even made a TV appearance on CBS denying it.
But the leaks didn’t stop and eventually, the White House was forced to admit Flynn had spoken with the Russians, a move Trump eventually praised during a press conference on February 16, 2017. Trump complained publicly about the number of leaks around the story saying “it’s an illegal process and the press should be ashamed of themselves”.
Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the investigation into whether or not the Russians interfered in the 2016 US election.
It was an off-hand remark heard around the world. In a closed-door White House meeting on immigration in January with both Republican and Democratic legislators, Trump sparked a furious reaction from world leaders after a leaked quote made it out of the discussion.
Trump allegedly asked aloud, “Why are we having all these people from s**thole countries come here?” According to people present, Trump was referring to Africa, El Salvador and Haiti. He reportedly asked why the US wasn’t allowing more people from countries such as Norway, according to the Washington Post account of the meeting.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who was present, confirmed the remarks for reporters, saying Trump said them “repeatedly”.
Others denied it, but it didn’t matter.
The condemnation was swift, with opponents calling Trump’s remarks “racist”, forcing Trump to clarify that while he used “tough” language during the meeting, he never said the word “s**thole”.
There have been and will continue to be many books written about the Trump administration. But the biggest bombshell so far came in January when author Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury hit the shelves a year into the Trump presidency. For months leading up to its publication, Wolff was given extraordinary access to the White House and the book included both on-the-record and leaked conversations with some of the president’s top lieutenants.
Overall, Fire and Fury paints a White House in constant chaos, with backstabbing and factional fighting that was not only witnessed but reportedly encouraged by Trump.
The president called it “a phony book” and “full of lies”. One passage includes a conversation with former top adviser Steve Bannon who called a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Junior and Russians with ties to the Kremlin “treasonous”. Bannon later apologised publicly for his comments.
In August 2017, the Washington Post leaked two separate conversations between Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia. Rather than deny the conversations ever took place, White House officials attacked the Post for publishing them. The transcripts reveal the president’s early attempts to change the US trade relationship with Mexico and deeply concerned about his public image on an assortment of other issues.
During the conversation with former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Trump addressed his biggest campaign promise to build a wall along the US-Mexican border and make the Mexicans pay for it.
Pena Nieto told Trump his country would never pay for the wall.
“You cannot say that to the press,” Trump told him. “The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”
In a conversation with former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump railed against a deal the US made under his predecessor, Barack Obama, to allow some refugees held by Australia into the United States.
“This shows me to be a dope,” Trump told Turnbull in a tense exchange. “I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country.” He later told Turnbull their conversation was “the most unpleasant call all day”.
In May 2017, Trump fired FBI director James Comey whose agents were investigating the president’s campaign over improper, and potentially illegal, contact with the Russian government during the 2016 election.
As Trump faced a furious backlash over the firing and charges of obstructing justice, he threatened to leak “tapes” of his conversations with Comey. Within days, a story leaked that, while Comey was still FBI director, Trump had asked him to let go of an investigation into Michael Flynn’s contact with the Russians.
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
A month later, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Comey revealed that, in fact, he was the one who leaked a de-classified memo of the conversation to the press after Trump’s threat of “tapes”. Comey said he did it because he hoped it would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to look into the mounting accusations that Trump campaign officials colluded with Moscow.
That’s exactly what happened.
Less than a week later, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed to the job. His investigation has netted four Trump campaign officials and led to the indictments of more than two dozen Russian citizens.
The White House later admitted that, contrary to Trump’s assertions, there were no “tapes” of the Comey conversations.
One of the most overlooked themes in this particular administration is that often the leaks are not only coming from inside the White House but inside the Oval Office itself. Unlike previous administrations, the president seems eager to be the first person to reveal any big news, often via Twitter, no matter how sensitive.
Case in point, the stunning revelation that Trump would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In March, a South Korean delegation came to the White House to brief officials about a meeting with the North Korean government, with which the US has no formal diplomatic relations. What many journalists didn’t know at the time was they brought a message from Kim to Trump.
The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2018
In a surprise appearance that afternoon, Trump popped his head into the briefing room, an unorthodox move even for him. He told a handful of confused journalists there would be a big announcement by the South Koreans later that day.
Sure enough, that evening, the South Korean delegation emerged from the West Wing and told the world about the request for an historic meeting with Kim.
On June 12th, Trump became the first sitting US president to meet a North Korean leader when he shook hands with Kim in Singapore.