President Donald Trump is under intense fire for congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his election — an election widely denounced as a sham. Putting aside the propriety of an American President congratulating an authoritarian figure (who is accused of interfering with his own election), the most notable element in the story was a leak that said Trump’s national security staff not only warned him not congratulate Putin but included in his briefing materials in all-capital letters the warning “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.” The speed of the leak is astonishing even by the measure of the Trump Administration. It appears that the leaks may have occurred within minutes of the call. Chief of Staff Kelly is reportedly irate with the leak and for good reason.
This leak is only the latest example of the work of staff close to Trump to get damaging information out into the press. The lethality of these leaks is also unprecedented. These leaks are clearly designed to seriously undermine Trump and some seem intended to push Trump toward impeachment or indictment. This means that Trump is working closely and daily with people who are actively seeking his demise. I can not recall a president in a similar position.
This leak seemed to be virtually immediate. It was fast, lethal, and calculated. It triggered various members, including Republicans, to denounce Trump’s decision and also led to a truly painful press conference with Sarah Sanders.
Like his decision to invite Russians into the Oval Office after the Comey firing (with Russian but not American photographers), Trump’s decision to congratulate Putin is baffling. He must have realized that it would fuel speculation over his relationship with the Russians and seeming reluctance to confront Putin.
I share the negative view of Trump’s decision to congratulate Putin. However, I do not see how this White House can function with this level of leaking from his close advisers. This is not the usual type of leaks that we have seen from the White House and it is not “deep state” actors. These are likely his appointees who are secretly working for his demise even at the risk of a criminal charge. The motivation is not clear but multiple people appear to have taken on a mission of either alerting the public of problematic conduct or hastening the end of this presidency. Since these are people who were affirmatively selected by the President or his closest aides, it is a remarkable role to take on after only a year of governance.