No doubt Donald Trump will follow up hard on this commitment. It’s not just because leaks apparently from US intelligence embarrassed him on his first international trip, and not just because it may overshadow whatever he accomplishes in his NATO and EU meetings this week. Trump has a particular interest in pursuing leaks these days — even though it also happens to be the right thing to do.
Trump managed to get out in front of the issue before meeting with a clearly unhappy Theresa May:
Pres. Trump says he’s asking DOJ and other relevant agencies to “launch a complete review” of alleged leaks from government agencies. pic.twitter.com/Rn2nX34NNC
— ABC News (@ABC) May 25, 2017
In the acute context, Trump has to act to restore confidence between the US and UK in intelligence sharing and cooperation. British intelligence is one of the best in the world, and both nations are made even stronger with trust and cooperation at their zenith. If the UK feels it has to restrict its partnership with American intelligence, it just forces both sides to work harder and to duplicate efforts, rather than make the most effective uses of limited resources. It’s not just the “special relationship” that gets damaged — it’s the national security of both countries.
However, Trump has other reasons for making this a Department of Justice priority. One of the reasons the White House gave for firing James Comey was his supposed reluctance to prioritize leak-plugging over the Russia probe. This eruption gives Trump a reason to remind people that he warned the FBI about the danger of leaks from the intelligence community, even if one might still suspect that Trump was more exercised over the political damage to his administration and himself at the time.
This also makes for a very interesting context in the effort to replace Comey. If pursuing leaks becomes the highest priority, then perhaps that would push Trump toward someone outside the FBI with experience in national-security matters — and Fran Townsend would fill that bill, as well as the express wish of both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to pick a non-politician. It might also point out a need for someone with inside experience in the FBI, but the pickings there have gotten slimmer. Acting director Andrew McCabe is a potential pick, but he’s running the Russia probe and would likely put his focus there as director, too. Richard McFeely might have been another option, but he withdrew, as did Alice Fisher. One can bet, though, that the DoJ officials to whom a new FBI director would report will make it very clear that national security depends on plugging leaks, and will hold that person accountable for progress in that direction.
Trump didn’t just stick to making his NATO partners feel at ease, however. He also scolded them over their failure to commit their “fair share” to the alliance, and said that an unfair burden had fallen on American taxpayers:
Pres. Trump says 23 NATO countries are not paying what they should on defense and “this is not fair to the people and taxpayers" in U.S. pic.twitter.com/ZnUuHI82ZX
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 25, 2017
Trump argued that NATO has to keep its traditional role of serving as a bulwark against Russian aggression, but also that it needs to play a larger role in the fight against terrorism. The contributions required by the agreement, which have not been met by 23 member countries anyway, may not cover the investment needed. “Two percent [of GDP] is the bare minimum,” Trump emphasized, “for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats.” That’s very true — and perhaps even more so after the massive refugee migration of the last two years.