If this isn’t the worst leak of Trump’s presidency, it’s certainly top two. The only worse one I can think of is leaking the transcripts of his conversations with world leaders.
A senior White House official says leaking "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" is a fireable offense. "If this story is accurate, that means someone leaked the President’s briefing papers. Leaking such information is a fireable offense and likely illegal," the official said.
— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) March 21, 2018
Indeed. The president needs to be able to trust his senior staff to keep his confidence. They give advice and he takes it or leaves it. If he leaves it, them’s the breaks. Running to the media to scrub your fingerprints off the boss’s decision is not only disloyal, it poisons the environment in the West Wing. And it’s self-defeating. A character like Trump won’t be more likely to heed the advice of a staff whom he despises for embarrassing him with leaks. To the contrary.
The only case I can think of where an aide’s duty of confidentiality bows before a duty to leak is if the executive is doing something illegal. Whatever you think of Trump congratulating Putin on his sham election win, it wasn’t that. I don’t even know if it was specific to Putin. Anti-Trumpers are in an uproar because they’re convinced Trump is under Putin’s thumb and that the congratulations is further evidence of it, but in a way that gives Trump too much credit. It’s not as though he has a robust sense of civic principle which he suspends only when dealing with Putin. He’s always admired strongmen and makes no bones about it. He congratulated Erdogan, an Islamist, on winning a dubious referendum that gave him quasi-dictatorial power in Turkey, for cripes sake. Trump’s deepest problem isn’t that he’s soft on Russia, it’s that he seems to have no real appreciation for broader western liberal norms. If anything, he probably thinks Putin’s ballot-box-stuffing was clever. You can’t get away with that here, but if you can get away with it there, why wouldn’t you?
That’s always seemed to me to be Trump’s most basic ethic. If you can get ahead by doing something and you have good reason to think you won’t be penalized, you do it. That’s how winners get to be winners. Only a cuck would say otherwise. And one reason why I think he caught on as a candidate is because Americans already feel, for good reason, that the entire ruling class approaches life the same way. The difference between them and Trump is that Trump doesn’t BS you with pieties to the contrary.
But I digress. Rubio’s entirely right here. If Trump congratulating a foreign fascist on his sham election win bothers you, you’re in the wrong job. Quit! You did your best to convince the president that fair elections matter abroad and that, if he’s going to woo Putin, the least he could do is not lend any American legitimacy to Putin’s victory, but you lost. And here’s the thing — you had every reason to expect that you’d lose, given Trump’s indifference to authoritarian methods abroad. There’s no shame in taking your best shot at persuasion and then bailing after you’ve lost the argument, just as Gary Cohn did after Trump went tariff-crazy a few weeks ago. But don’t stab the guy in the back for it. He ran as someone who’d backslap cretins like Putin and he won on it. He has a right to implement his policy.
Although, interestingly, he hasn’t always looked kindly on other presidents backslapping cretins:
How long did it take for Obama to call Hugo Chavez and congratulate him on his 'reelection?' Who do you think Chavez supports in ours?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2012
Exit question: Who’s the prime suspect in the leak? Given that his days are numbered and so few other advisors would have had access to the “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” message, McMaster has to be in the mix, right?
— CNN (@CNN) March 21, 2018