Why This Administration Is the Leakiest

Donald Trump is always complaining about leakers. But to prove that his intent is almost always to elicit an emotional response rather than a thoughtful one, take a look at his latest tweet on the subject.

Even though he makes absolutely no sense, he covered all the bases: leaks are fake news and the leakers are traitors. Why bother sticking with one argument when you can do both, even though they contradict each other?

In light of all the news lately about White House leaks, it is interesting to note that Mike Allen of Axios says that due to leakers, “we learn more about what’s going on inside the Trump White House in a week than we did in a year of the George W. Bush presidency.”

Allen’s colleague, Jonathan Swan, gathered some information from the people who leak to him about why so many people in the Trump administration are leakers. The answers tell us a lot about the kind of people who work for Donald Trump.

* To be honest, it probably falls into a couple of categories,” one current White House official tells me. “The first is personal vendettas. And two is to make sure there’s an accurate record of what’s really going on in the White House.”

* “To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers’ idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me,” the current White House official added.

* “The most common substantive leaks are the result of someone losing an internal policy debate,” a current senior administration official told me. “By leaking the decision, the loser gets one last chance to kill it with blowback from the public, Congress or even the President.”

* “Otherwise,” the official added, “you have to realize that working here is kind of like being in a never-ending ‘Mexican Standoff.’ Everyone has guns (leaks) pointed at each other and it’s only a matter of time before someone shoots. There’s rarely a peaceful conclusion so you might as well shoot first.”…

* Another former administration official said grudges have a lot to do with it. “Any time I leaked, it was out of frustration with incompetent or tone-deaf leadership,” the former official said.

* “Bad managers almost always breed an unhappy workplace, which ultimately results in pervasive leaking,” the former official added.

The third bullet point about leaking a decision you disagree with is pretty common in politics and is often referred to as a “trail balloon.” But we don’t see many of those coming from this White House, perhaps because they don’t produce much by way of policy.

The last bullet point about bad managers summarizes why leaking is so prevalent in this White House. Vendettas are the name of the game from the top on down the food chain. The statement that working in this administration is “like being in a never-ending ‘Mexican Standoff'” is interesting. At first, I thought it was a race-tinged reference to the kind of wild west standoffs prevalent in movies like the kind Clint Eastwood is so fond of making. But perhaps “Mexican Standoff” is actually the most appropriate reference.

A Mexican standoff is a confrontation amongst two or more parties in which no strategy exists that allows any party to achieve victory. As a result, all participants need to maintain the strategic tension, which remains unresolved until some outside event makes it possible to resolve it. The Mexican standoff is a recurring trope in cinema, in which several armed characters hold each other at gunpoint.

This would be prime material for a comedy if the stakes weren’t so high.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.