There’s a reason we know as much as we do about the controversy surrounding Russia and bounties: officials within the administration agreed to share sensitive information with journalists. While I can’t speak in any detail or with any authority about various news organizations’ sources, it’s obvious that some key insiders leaked in order to inform the public.
And that, according to White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien is outrageous.
“To those government officials who betray the trust of the people of the United States by leaking classified information, your actions endanger our national security,” O’Brien said in a written statement released late yesterday. “No matter the motivation, there is never a justification for such conduct.”
Early this morning, Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor and an MSNBC legal analyst, raised an important rejoinder:
“The consequences of attacking the Ukraine whistleblower: concerned officials go to the media instead of proper channels. When you take away the proper route through vindictive retribution, you cannot then complain about leaks.”
That’s well said and an important point.
Imagine being a prominent official at a U.S. intelligence agency. You’re aware of allegations that an adversary is paying rewards to those who kill American troops, and you’re frustrated that the White House doesn’t seem too willing to act — except to do favors for the adversary in question.
You could play by the rules and follow proper channels — file complaints, alert relevant authorities, etc. — but you’ve seen what happens to those who do: Donald Trump puts them on an enemies list, accuses them of treason, and tries to ruin them. By all appearances, the president isn’t just motivated by a desire to retaliate; he’s also been eager to send a signal to others who may be tempted to do the right thing.
Some insiders have no doubt been intimidated into submission, but others have come to see the value of alternate channels.
If Robert O’Brien finds that discouraging, perhaps he should take that up with his boss.
Postscript: On a related note, let’s also not forget the president’s direct role in leaking sensitive information.