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Leaks plague White House despite crackdown

President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday that the “so-called leaks” from the White House are a “massive exaggeration” and that he will find out who the leakers are.

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“The so-called leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over exaggeration put out by the Fake News Media in order to make us look as bad as possible. With that being said, leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!”

The president did not specify to which leaks he was referring or who on his own staff he considered “traitors and cowards.” But the drama surrounding White House aide Kelly Sadler over the weekend highlighted the fact that the leaks to the press from inside the White House continue unabated despite Trump’s aggressive and public pledges to crack down on chatty staff.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders scolded her staff on Friday for the derogatory comment about Sen. John McCain that was leaked from a closed-door meeting, according to multiple senior White House officials who shared details of that meeting to ABC News.

Sanders called the comment “unacceptable,” but sources said she appeared to be more upset that the comment was leaked by a West Wing staffer to make another West Wing staffer look bad.

In an interview with Fox News Monday night, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked if she thought there would be any personnel changes in the White House as a result of recent leaks, to which she replied, “I do actually, yes I do.”

“If you work at the pleasure of the president, like we all do here, and you have the privilege and the blessing of coming every day to work in this White House on behalf of the nation that we all love then you want to be competent, you want to be loyal and you ought to be able to reinforce the agenda that prevailed here,” Conway told host Martha MacCallum.

The Sadler episode — the latest in a series of damaging and embarrassing leaks — highlights what has become an intractable problem for the Trump White House, which has said shutting down leakers is a top priority.

While every White House has been subjected to occasional leaks, Trump has presided over a near-constant flow of confidential information to media outlets. And the president himself has shared information with friends and associates that’s later spilled into public view.

Trump declared last year that he personally called the Justice Department and asked them to “look into” leaks to the media.

“Those are criminal leaks,” the president said during a press conference last February.

Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci boldly declared last July that he would consider cleaning house to stop leaks to the press.

“I’m going to fire everybody, that’s how I’m going to do it,” he said. “You’re either going to stop leaking or you’re getting fired.”

PHOTO: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly looks on during an event to mark the 15th anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security, March 1, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly looks on during an event to mark the 15th anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security, March 1, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Following those remarks, Michael Short resigned his position as assistant press secretary in the first indication of a shake-up in the press office, however there was no indication Short was among those who had leaked information.

In January, chief of staff John Kelly ordered a new ban on personal cell phone use within the West Wing, with an eye on bolstering cyber-security protocols and curbing leaks.

Among recent leaks to the press were the Trump legal team’s list of 49 questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask the president in a potential interview, alleged comments that Kelly called Trump an “idiot” in private meetings — reports Kelly called “total BS — and the president calling certain African countries “s—holes” during an Oval Office meeting.

Last June, U.S. intelligence agencies took the significant step of formally referring as many as six recent leaks to the Justice Department for criminal investigation amid multiple reports that linked Russian operatives to associates of Trump, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The president tweeted: “After many years of LEAKS going on in Washington, it is great to see the A.G. taking action! For National Security, the tougher the better!”

During that February press conference Trump suggested the leaks were coming from people who’d been appointed to positions during the Obama administration.

“I think you’ll see it stopping because now we have our people in,” he said, vowing to punish the leakers. “They’re going to pay a big price for leaking.”

A former White House official during the Obama administration called blaming those appointed during the previous administration an “excuse.”

“Blaming phantom holdovers from a previous administration seems to be a feckless excuse for the clear disorder, lack of effective leadership and poor policies coming from the Trump White House,” the former White House official said. “If the current White House is having trouble retaining information, those same individuals need not look further than their senior staff meetings or the mirror.”

John Kelly has been a target of many damaging leaks, and has made an effort over the past year to crack down on private information flowing from the White House to the press.

Former White House aide Sebastian Gorka warned on cable television last year that Kelly told staffers “loose lips sink ships and if you leak there will be consequences.”

One White House official didn’t seem too confident the leaks would end.

“We can all hope,” the official said.

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