With Trump transcripts, White House leakers only make themselves look foolish
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Internal working documents, such as the White House transcripts of the president’s telephone calls with foreign leaders, generally don’t get leaked to the media with a view of enhancing the president’s stature.

Leaks are corrosive by nature. These days, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans hold on to Arizona House seat Dems win majority in New York Senate, but won't control it Mulvaney to bankers: Campaign donations will help limit consumer bureau's power MORE appears to have more enemies in the White House than loyal friends.

We learned earlier this week, for example, that his own National Security advisor, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, allegedly convinced the president to break all protocol and prohibit Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from accompanying him to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy site, during his state visit to Israel. (Earlier versions of this story pinned the blame on Arabist diplomats at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.)

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We also learned, from the inimitable Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, that McMaster tried to go even further and prevent the president from visiting the Western Wall altogether. McMaster also has fired a plethora of pro-Israel and staunchly pro-Trump staffers at the National Security Council since he took over the reins from General Mike Flynn in February.

Oh, and who recommended McMaster to Trump? That loyal Trump supporter, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMellman: Memories may be beautiful, yet… Schumer to oppose Pompeo as secretary of State Arizona GOP blocked from changing rules on filling McCain's seat MORE.

Why Trump continues to tolerate such insubordination from his National Security advisor is anyone’s guess. Now we learn that McMaster has gone out of his way to enable his predecessor, the highly partisan, unmasker of Trump campaign workers, Susan Rice, to maintain her top level security clearance, which gives her access to Sensitive Compartmented Information, the government’s best protected secrets.

So, McMaster has purged Trump loyalists from the White House, while putting a reliable Trump opponent in a position to leak sensitive U.S. government documents to the anti-Trump U.S. media (but I repeat myself).

But power breeds arrogance. Arrogance breeds carelessness. And carelessness breeds stupidity.

Whoever leaked the transcripts of Trump’s phone calls with Mexican President Enrique Pena-Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was arrogant, careless, and stupid.

Arrogant, because they thought they could get away with it. Careless, because, in releasing the transcripts, they undoubtedly revealed clues to the identity of the source — that’s why the Post wrote it was, “publishing reproductions rather than original documents in order to protect sources.”

For all we know, Trump could have seeded these documents with unique traces to discover the leaker, a process intelligence analysts call a “barium meal.” It wouldn’t be the first time, I am told.

But more than that: The leakers were outright stupid.

There is nothing in these transcripts that embarrasses Donald Trump, because there is nothing in them that contradicts anything he hasn’t been saying publicly all along.

The Post thinks it’s a big deal that Trump argued long and hard with Pena-Nieto over how the two presidents would talk about the border wall Trump wanted to build.

Trump asked Pena-Nieto to stop saying in public that Mexico would not pay for it, and suggested that they agree to both say that they would work it out.

Trump: So what I would like to recommend is – if we are going to have continued dialogue – we will work out the wall. They are going to say, “who is going to pay for the wall, Mr. President?” to both of us, and we should both say, “we will work it out.” It will work out in the formula somehow. As opposed to you saying, “we will not pay” and me saying, “we will not pay.”

There is nothing astonishing in that position. In fact, there is nothing astonishing in this entire conversation. Trump is trying to be straight, and honest, but also to establish a rapport with Pena-Nieto, which his Mexican counterpart clearly appreciates.

But at no point does Trump betray his principles, or suggest that somehow he was only joking about his campaign slogan that Mexico would pay for the wall.

The same goes for Trump’s conversation with Australia’s Turnbull. They discussed ad infinitum the deal that Obama worked out with Turnbull for the U.S. to accept 2,000 economic migrants who had paid people smugglers to reach Australia, were arrested, and sent to a harsh detainment center on Nauru and Manus island.

Throughout the call, Trump complained repeatedly that it was a bad deal, that he would never negotiate such a deal, that accepting the deal just a day after issuing his executive order banning refugees from Syria and six other Muslim countries would kill him politically. “I will be seen as a weak and ineffective leader in my first week by these people. This is a killer.”

So Trump tells Turnbull how he intends to spin the story. “I have no choice to say that about it. Malcom [sic], I am going to say that I have no choice but to honor my predecessor’s deal. I think it is a horrible deal, a disgusting deal that I would have never made. It is an embarrassment to the United States of America and you can say it just the way I said it. I will say it just that way. As far as I am concerned that is enough Malcom [sic]. I have had it.”

At that point, they ended the conversation — with neither leader abruptly hanging up the phone, as earlier Washington Post stories of the call had it.

When the contents of the calls initially leaked to the media in later January and early February, it created a stir because it clearly meant that someone with a very high security clearance in the White House was breaking the law.

By this point, however, the leak of the complete transcripts is a nothing-burger. My money is that the president himself may have left subtly altered transcripts lying around, all the better to catch the mole.

Kenneth R. Timmerman was the 2012 Republican congressional nominee for Maryland’s 8th District and is the author of "Deception: The Making of the YouTube Video Hillary & Obama Blamed for Benghazi," published by Post Hill Press.


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