Washington’s Leak Mob
Trying to topple Trump, current and ex-officials damage national security.
Kimberley A. Strassel
July 6, 2017 6:43 p.m. ET
Today’s Washington is overrun by two kinds of crimes.
The first is the still-speculative kind, which the Washington press corps obsesses over— Trump -Russia collusion, obstruction of justice—despite no evidence of its existence. By all accounts, special counsel Robert Mueller’s growing team of Democratic lawyers intends to devote itself to this fiction.
Yet if Mr. Mueller were serious about bringing down a threat to the nation, or even carving himself a place in history, he’d be tackling the second kind of crime, the real kind. These are the crimes that occur constantly and actually harm national security, even if they’re routinely ignored by a self-interested media. We are talking of course about the serial leaking of sensitive information, the daily profession of a new government elite akin to an organized crime network.
Lucky for Mr. Mueller, he doesn’t even need his army of legal investigators to get an immediate handle on this mafia. He can instead stroll down to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. That’s the purview of Sen. Ron Johnson, who keeps dogged oversight of government among his many self-set tasks.
That mission resulted this week in a shocking staff analysis of the recent deluge of secret-spilling, and the manner in which these unauthorized disclosures are harming national security. It’s the first congressional scrutiny of the leaks—and notable for its straight-up nature. This is no partisan document. It’s a bloodless accounting of a national-security failure, perpetrated by dozens of government employees willfully breaking the law.
The first 126 days of the Trump administration featured 125 stories that leaked harmful information. Just under one a day. The committee staff judged the stories against a 2009 Barack Obama executive order that laid out what counted as information likely to damage national security. And as it chose to not include borderline leaks or “palace intrigue” stories, that number is an understatement.
For reference, the first 126 days of the Obama term featured 18 stories that met the criteria. Ten of those were actually leaks about George W. Bush’s “torture memo,” which Mr. Obama released.
The Trump leaks show the sweeping nature of this enterprise, coming as they have from “U.S. officials,” “former U.S. officials,” “senior U.S. officials,” “intelligence officials,” “national security officials,” “Justice Department officials,” “defense officials” and “law-enforcement officials.” One story cited more than two dozen anonymous sources. Alarmingly, the titles, and the nature of the information disclosed, indicate that many leaks are coming directly from the U.S. intelligence community.
What’s been disclosed? The contents of wiretapped information. The names of individuals the U.S. monitors, and where they are located. The communications channels used to monitor targets. Which agencies are monitoring. Intelligence intercepts. FBI interviews. Grand jury subpoenas. Secret surveillance-court details. Internal discussions. Military operations intelligence. The contents of the president’s calls with foreign leaders.
The analysis lays out the real and the assumed fallout. One clear example is the May stories hyperventilating that Mr. Trump shared classified intelligence with the Russians. Subsequent leaks suggested Israel provided the intelligence, about Islamic State. This revelation caused a diplomatic incident, and reportedly a change in the way Israel shares with the U.S. Even former Obama CIA Director John Brennan called the leak “appalling.”
How many foreign allies are pulling back? How many will work with a U.S. government that has disclosed military plans, weapons systems and cybersecurity tactics? What have our enemies learned? One March story divulged sensitive FBI data on U.S. border vulnerabilities, in hopes of undercutting Mr. Trump’s travel order.
The Johnson report doesn’t go here, but let’s go ourselves: This is lawbreaking, in the aid of a political hit job. The leaking syndicate can’t claim whistleblower status, since it has yet to leak a piece of evidence showing Trump wrongdoing. This is about taking out a president. And with a role model like James Comey —who wrote secret memos with the express purpose of leaking and launching a special counsel—that’s no surprise.
But as Mr. Mueller surely knows, the Espionage Act doesn’t trifle with intentions. As even the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has noted, leaks enjoy “no First Amendment protection, regardless of the motives,” and no accused leaker “has ever been acquitted based on a finding that the public interest was so great” that it justified unlawful disclosure.
Mr. Mueller is sitting astride a leak crime wave, run by a bureaucratic underworld that is happy to harm U.S. interests if it maims a president. He can dig four years into Trump hearsay and innuendo. Or he can, more immediately, take action that would rein in the lawbreakers and restore some calm to the Capitol and the media. That’s how to really promote law and order.