The adage about One Man’s Terrorist is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter is aptly paraphrased for the running battle in Washington between President Trump and his intelligence agencies. Only instead of «terrorist» substitute the word «leaker».
Prominent sections of the US media are willingly acting as conduits for intelligence agencies leaking classified government information to damage the Trump White House. The media and Trump’s political enemies are thus acting as accomplices in criminal disclosure of supposedly secret government information, which at another time the same media and politicians would condemn as treasonous. Think Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning for instance.
Trump has hit back after his National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign over disclosed phone contacts he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak earlier this year. With barely contained anger, Trump described the leaks as «criminal» and «un-American» and has scorned media outlets for conspiring to destabilize his presidency – only less than one month after taking office.
In turn, media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN have disparaged Trump for trying to «deflect» the issue away from alleged contacts with Russian state officials to the issue of intelligence services leaking classified information. Such disclosure is a criminal offense, punishable by jail for breach of government secrecy rules.
Trump does have a point though. The practice of leaking confidential information by security services is a grave breach.
But there is something of a contradiction here on both sides of the fight.
When Donald Trump was campaigning as presidential candidate he openly reveled in the leaking of classified information by the Wikileaks whistleblower website because much of the disclosure was highly damaging to his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton, originating partly during her tenure as Secretary of State.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. President Trump is screaming about classified information being leaked and given out «like candy» to media outlets. Because now the leaks are damaging his administration with allegations that some his aides were in close contact with Russian government officials. The alleged contacts go beyond just former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The New York Times this week reported anonymous US officials claiming that several of Trump’s aides also shared contact with Russians.
Ironically, some of these major US media outlets appear indifferent to the criminal offense of leaking classified information by intelligence agencies. They want to focus on the alleged content of the leaks, namely that Trump and his team are supposedly compromised by clandestine Russian connections. Yet, during the election campaign these same outlets showed little interest in publishing the damaging content of information leaked by Wikileaks against Hillary Clinton. Part of that indifference was feigned to be a concern over publishing leaked classified information.
Again, now the shoe is on the other foot. US media outlets that were previously shunning leaked information about their favored candidate, Clinton, are now all too willing to run with leaks damaging President Trump, whom they were decidedly opposed to becoming the White House occupant.
However, to be fair to Trump when he was a beneficiary of leaks against Clinton during the election campaign he was then a private citizen. There is no evidence that he colluded with the source of the leaks, either Wikileaks or, as is alleged, Russian hackers. Also, much of the damaging information against Clinton – her paid connections to Wall Street banks for instance – was obtained from private emails between her as a Democrat candidate and the Democratic National Committee, not when she was in office as the Secretary of State during the Obama administration. That information was not classified government correspondence, so therefore was fair game for publishing.
Whereas the current leaks against President Trump by intelligence agencies or government officials are a clear breach of secrecy laws on classified information. Those leaks are clearly intended at undermining a sitting president by insinuating that his alleged contacts with Russian officials are potentially treasonous.
The media clamor over Trump’s alleged Russian connections are fueling a growing chorus in Congress for further investigations. Media pundits and lawmakers are boldly using the word «treason» to describe Trump’s alleged contacts with Russia. Some are even referring to the infamous Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon’s ouster in 1974.
The Washington Post which famously helped uncover the Watergate scandal published an editorial this week declaring: «The nation needs answers, not deflections, on Russia and Trump».
The Post editors write: «The news [sic] that members of President Trump’s circle had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, reported by the New York Times on Tuesday, might have been less concerning if the president had responded by explaining or condemning the contacts and accepting the need for an impartial investigation. Instead, on Wednesday morning, he dashed off a half-dozen tweets in which he curiously both denied the news [sic] and attacked the leakers who disclosed it. In so doing, he gave more cause for Republicans and Democrats to demand answers about his opaque and increasingly troubling ties with Moscow».
What the Washington Post innocuously calls «news» is actually leaked claims from anonymous US intelligence officials, which are illegal. It is also hardly «news» since the information is unverifiable claims made by anonymous sources.
Nevertheless, the Post castigates Trump for drawing attention to the illegality of the leaks. And it goes on emphatically to «demand answers about his opaque and increasingly troubling ties with Moscow».
The dubious priority here is not to question the ethics of leaking classified information, but rather to push the vapid, unverifiable hearsay that impugns the president for allegedly having private communications with the Russians. Trump has flatly denied that any such contacts were ever made during his campaign.
Ironically, the connection to Watergate is more than it might appear to be. That scandal is commonly thought of as a «high point» of American journalism, in which intrepid reporters from the Washington Post dared to help bring down a Republican president for involvement in «dirty tricks» against Democrats hatched in 1972. A more nuanced account is given by author Russ Baker, in his book Family of Secrets about the Bush dynasty and the CIA. Baker provides evidence that the Washington Post was actually led by intelligence agencies to stitch up Richard Nixon whom they had come to oppose over his shady self-serving politics. Watergate and the demise of Nixon was thus less a triumph of democracy and media righteousness and more a coup by the Deep State against Nixon in which the Washington Post served as the conduit.
The nature of today’s shenanigans with Trump may be different in the precise details. But the modus operandi appears to be the same. A sitting president is out of favor with the Deep State and the latter is orchestrating a media campaign of leaks to dislodge him. Appropriately, the Washington Post is again at the forefront of the Deep State operation to thwart the president, this time Trump, as with Nixon before.
The story of Trump being a potentially treasonous pawn being manipulated by Russia is impossibly far-fetched to be credible. Trump denies it, and Moscow denies it. Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn appears indeed to have had contact with the Russian ambassador during Trump’s transition to the White House. But the content of the conversation has been blown out of all proportion by US intelligence and media to contrive the narrative that Trump is in cahoots with Moscow.
The upshot is that Trump’s avowed policy of restoring friendlier relations with Russia is being hampered at every turn. The president is being goaded into having to deny he is a Russian stooge and to prove that he is not soft on Moscow – by, for example, stating this week through his White House spokesman Sean Spicer that «Russian must hand back Crimea to Ukraine».
Evidently, the big purpose here is to direct Trump to adopt a harder line on Russia and to abandon any notion of developing cordial relations. Either he must tow the line, or he will be hounded by leaks, media speculation and Congressional probes until he is impeached. This is because the Deep State – primarily the military-industrial complex that is the permanent government of the US – is predicated on a strategic policy of adversity towards Russia and any other designated geopolitical rival.
Meanwhile, amid the raging war between the Trump White House and the US intelligence network, which includes sections of the media, Russia said this week that relations between the two countries were suffering.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, lamented that the turmoil in Washington was turning into a lost opportunity for the US and Russia to normalize relations and get on with bigger, far more urgent tasks of cooperation in world affairs.
And that impasse between the US and Russia, it would seem, is the whole object lesson from Trump’s war with powerful elements within his own state.
Trump may have been elected president. But other darker forces in America’s power structure are intent on over-ruling him when it comes to policy on Russia. Trump’s Watergate is all about drowning out a genuine reset with Russia.