Trump critics say latest leaks go too far

Even critics of President Trump seem to agree: The leakers have gone too far.

Many in Washington are expressing alarm that the transcripts of Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders were leaked to The Washington Post, warning that the action could undermine the U.S. government and imperil national security.

“This is beyond the pale and will have a chilling effect going forward on the ability of the commander in chief to have candid discussions with his counterparts,” Ned Price, a former National Security Council official under President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaA sea change for sexual conduct on campus Anti-wall is not a border policy: How Democrats can sell an immigration plan Obama receives Robert F. Kennedy human rights award MORE, told The Hill. 

“Granted, the White House contributed to this atmosphere by welcoming the free-for-all environment, where anonymous leaks are commonplace. But we must draw the line somewhere.”

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The Post on Thursday printed the entire transcripts of Trump’s private phone calls with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Many in the media and on the left have celebrated the torrent of leaks — some involving classified information — that have bedeviled the Trump administration since taking office.

But Thursday’s revelation went too for some Democrats, who warned that the release of the president’s private conversations with foreign leaders is a bridge too far.

“Leaks of sensitive or classified information damages our national security,” Michael McFaul, who served as Russian ambassador under Obama, told The Hill.

That sentiment was echoed by Obama’s former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, who took a dig at Trump over Twitter but nonetheless said he’d have been mortified to see such a leak happen to his former boss.

Perhaps the most vehement criticism of the transcripts leaking came from David Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter who is now the senior editor at The Atlantic. 

Frum has railed against Trump and warned that the president represents a threat to the republic. But Frum on Thursday warned that leaking Trump’s private phone calls with foreign leaders is a reckless way to oppose him.

In a piece called “Why Leaking Transcripts of Trump’s Calls Is So Dangerous,” Frum argued that it’s “vitally important” that the president and foreign leaders be able to speak without fear that their conversations will be leaked to the press.

“No leader will again speak candidly on the phone to Washington, D.C. — at least for the duration of this presidency, and perhaps for longer,” Frum wrote. “If these calls can be leaked, any call can be leaked — and no leader dare say anything to the president of the United States that he or she would not wish to read in the news at home.”

“If no high national-security secret has been betrayed in these transcripts, the workings of the U.S. government have been gravely compromised, and in ways that will be very difficult to repair even after Trump leaves office,” he continued. 

Even before the release of the transcripts, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsChief Justice of California Supreme Court leaves GOP over Kavanaugh confirmation Trump attorney general pick a prolific donor to GOP candidates, groups: report Press: Mueller closes in on Trump MORE and his top lieutenants had scheduled a press conference for Friday to address their efforts to staunch the flow of leaks from what Trump’s allies refer to as the “deep state.”

Trump is pushing his attorney general to be more aggressive in prosecuting illegal leaks, and Thursday’s revelations could send those efforts into overdrive.

Speculation is running rampant over the origins of the transcripts, with some blaming national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who has become a target on the right for purging the National Security Council of some officials who were viewed as Trump loyalists.

"The only option President Trump has is to clean house at the National Security Council, starting at the top with General McMaster,” Americans for Limited Government president Rick Manning said in a statement. “The threat posed to the country by the National Security Council leaking requires immediate and swift action."

Still, the origins of the leak are unlikely to be clear-cut, and finding the culprits could prove difficult.

While only a handful of people were present for the actual phone calls, the final transcripts of the calls can run through many different agencies.

The notes were likely taken by a National Security Council official, who then put the conversations into a memorandum of conversation which is then sent through an editing and approval process by senior officials on the NSC. 

The memorandum is then logged and registered as the official U.S. record of the meeting and kept on file either at the NSC or State Department.

It can be distributed, sometimes as a hard copy, to relevant officials at the Department of State, Department of Defense, CIA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and other agencies within the intelligence community.

Those with appropriate clearances can also view the memorandums at the repositories where they’re kept. Along the way, there are scores of opportunities for the classified documents to “jump the gap.”