Crackdown on leakers won’t make Trump’s troubles go away

SHARE Crackdown on leakers won’t make Trump’s troubles go away

This picture obtained by AFP on Tuesday as it was made available on social networks shows an undated and unlocated “selfie” picture of Reality Leigh Winner.
Authorities arrested the 25-year-old woman, who worked for an NSA subcontractor, soon after a top secret National Security Agency report on Russian interference in the US election leaked and was posted by The Intercept, a news website.
-/ AFP/Getty Images

Russia tried to swing the results of the November election, the Trump campaign may have colluded in the effort, and the Trump White House is a basket case of ethical conflicts and ineptitude.

We know much of this because of anonymous leaks to the media. The leaks have served our country well, and you can bet they’ll keep on coming. The Trump administration will never succeed in shutting them down.


With every new leak, which seems to come almost daily, President Donald Trump has attempted to deflect attention from the substance of the latest revelation by insisting the “real story” is the constant leaking itself. But he is fighting a losing battle. Americans are not oblivious to the dangers of leaks, especially of classified intelligence information, but they have shown far more interest in what the leaks have revealed.

The president, to cite a glaring example, may be outraged that somebody tipped the media to what he said to Russian officials last month during a meeting in the Oval Office, but most Americans were more alarmed to learn that he had casually revealed classified intelligence that put an important ally, Israel, in a bad spot.

Now, in a ratcheting up of the Trump administration’s battle against leaks, the Department of Justice has charged a 25-year-old Air Force veteran, a woman with the unlikely name of Reality Winner, with mailing classified information to a news organization, The Intercept. Winner allegedly leaked a National Security Agency document, dated May 5, that asserts with confidence that Russian government hackers targeted 122 local American election officials days before the November election.

Winner, who reportedly has admitted her actions, is in serious trouble. She may have broken the law out of a higher sense of moral obligation, but — as we have written with respect to mega-leakers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange — a nation cannot look the other way when random individuals take it upon themselves to reveal state secrets. National security is on the line.

The central question, as Winner faces criminal prosecution, is whether the good she arguably has done for her country, by contributing to the public’s understanding of the Russian conspiracy, outweighs the harm she may have done. If it were not for dozens, possibly hundreds, of such leaks by federal employees and others, the American public might still be in the dark about this unfolding scandal. There might not be three separate ongoing investigations by Congress and one by the FBI.

Were it not for anonymous leaks to reporters, the public might never have learned of the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the Vietnam War that said the government had lied about the origins of the war. There might have been no Watergate expose. There might have been no revelation, in 2007, that the NSA was eavesdropping on citizens without a warrant.

The United States has a long history of forgiving and even honoring principled acts of civil disobedience, if not in the moment then in the verdict of history. That could serve Winner well with a jury and in the court of public opinion.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders led a demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama, knowing full well they were breaking the law because they did not have a city permit. They willingly faced the consequences — including 11 days in Birmingham Jail for Dr. King — and history is perfectly clear about who held the high moral ground.

If Trump believes he can derail the current investigations by cracking down on leaks, he is wrong. Every new revelation by the media says there is so much more to learn.

On Tuesday, Trump’s two adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., complained on TV that the ongoing Russian investigations were nothing but a “witch hunt” and “the greatest hoax of all time.”

A growing body of evidence says Eric and Don are wrong about that. But it was early in the day. Maybe they had not yet read the NSA report allegedly brought to light by Reality Winner.

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