Report: Washington Post’s Philip Rucker Burned ‘Off-the-Record’ Conversation with Trump’s Secretary

Screenshot/Washington Week

The Washington Post’s White House bureau chief, Philip Rucker, has not denied allegations that he violated the terms of an off-the-record conversation with now-former White House official Madeleine Westerhout, which led to her termination as the president’s personal secretary.

As the New York Times reported late Thursday evening, Westerhout was removed from the White House after having served since the beginning of the Trump presidency when it was determined she allegedly leaked confidential information about Oval Office operations and the first family to reporters in an off-the-record dinner in Bedminster, New Jersey, while the president was staying there this month.

From the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni:

President Trump’s personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, whose office sits in front of the Oval Office and who has served as the president’s gatekeeper since Day 1 of his administration, resigned on Thursday, two people familiar with her exit said. Ms. Westerhout’s abrupt and unexpected departure came after Mr. Trump learned on Thursday that she had indiscreetly shared details about his family and the Oval Office operations she was part of during a recent off-the-record dinner with reporters staying at hotels near Bedminster, N.J., during the president’s working vacation, according to one of the people, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss White House personnel issues.

“The breach of trust meant immediate action: Ms. Westerhout, one of the people familiar with her departure said, was immediately considered a ‘separated employee’ and would not be allowed to return to the White House on Friday,” Haberman and Karni added.

Westerhout was a staple in the West Wing, with a desk right outside the Oval Office and having control over much of who got in to speak with the president in person or over the phone and a lot of which papers made it to him and which did not. When it turned out she was allegedly leaking, as the Times noted, she was reportedly immediately terminated and told not to return to the White House. She was an aide to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, now a Utah U.S. senator after carpetbagging his way out West last cycle when he bowed out of running for Senate against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in Massachusetts during his 2012 presidential campaign. She also served at the Republican National Committee (RNC) and in various other roles throughout the party before joining the Trump White House in the beginning of the administration.

It is still unclear exactly what specific information that Westerhout allegedly leaked that led to her termination. But one new detail has emerged in the half-day since her departure from the West Wing that is raising eyebrows around Washington: a plausible theory as to who burned her.

Arthur Schwartz, a highly plugged-in GOP strategist, has tweeted that multiple reporters and White House officials have told him that Rucker–the Post’s White House bureau chief–is who shared the off-the-record information that Westerhout supposedly provided with someone else, before it then got back to the White House what Westerhout was allegedly doing:

Schwartz, about whom the New York Times just wrote regarding his role as a Trump ally in an effort to expose media figures’ histories of racism, antisemitism, bigotry, and other embarrassing comments, said it is clear from what he says about Rucker’s behavior here that “off-the-record” is now “meaningless”:

Schwartz also said there should be serious consequences for Rucker for his behavior on this matter:

Rucker has not replied to multiple emailed requests for comment from Breitbart News on this matter. He also has not said if he was at the dinner with Westerhout, if Westerhout did share “off-the-record” information with him and others there, and if he then provided said information to others who then relayed back to the White House what both he and Westerhout were doing.

If true, this would be a violation of the Washington Post’s published standards regarding handling of “off-the-record” dealings with sources.

The Posts published guidelines on “off-the-record” information are as follows:

Off the record: This is the trickiest of all, because so many people misuse the term. By the traditional definition, off-the-record information cannot be used for publication or in further reporting. But many sources, including some sophisticated officials, use the term when they really mean “not for attribution to me.” We must be very careful when dealing with sources who say they want to be “off the record.” If they mean “not for attribution to me,” we need to explain the difference, and discuss what the attribution will actually be. If they really mean off the record as the term is traditionally defined, then in most circumstances, we should avoid listening to such information at all. We do not want to be hamstrung by a source who tells us something that becomes unusable because it is provided on an off-the-record basis.

A source may be willing to give us information for our guidance or to prompt further reporting, on the understanding that we will not use his or her comments as the basis for publication.

Also if true, the Post could be latest in what seems like an endless line of establishment media outlets dealing with ethics issues–the New York Times has been hit with one of its own over the past week-plus, and CNN has had serious problems over the past month–the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) seems more distracted in helping someone from Playboy magazine who threatened violence at the White House get back his press credentials:

The WHCA just this week signed onto a lawsuit by Brian Karem, Playboys White House correspondent, to try to overturn a White House-issued temporary ban on his press credential, which came after he threatened to engage in physical violence against radio host and former White House aide Dr. Sebastian Gorka at a Rose Garden event this summer. After Karem’s threats of violence, the White House issued a temporary suspension of his press credentials–which Karem has sued to overturn, a lawsuit the WHCA signed onto.

But the WHCA remains silent on actual racism and antisemitism inside the New York Times and inside CNN. It now remains silent on what appears to be a serious breach of journalistic ethics from the Washington Post. It remains silent on threats of violence from CNN primetime weeknight anchor Chris Cuomo, who was caught on tape threatening a man who jokingly called him “Fredo.” They remain silent on CNN’s April Ryan’s bodyguard’s physical attack on a reporter this month who was trying to cover a speech she gave in New Jersey. It remains silent on CNN anchor Don Lemon being credibly accused of sexual assault in a bar in the Hamptons. It remains silent on an MSNBC anchor pushing false information about the president’s finances that he was forced to retract the next night in an embarrassing public retraction and apology. It remains silent on a Miami Herald columnist publishing what has been denounced as antisemitism when he labeled a Jewish conservative a “termite.” But the WHCA has the time and energy to defend threats of violence from a Playboy magazine writer:

UPDATE 3;38 p.m. ET:

After the publication of this article, the Washington Post provided Breitbart News with a statement from the newspaper’s national editor Steven Ginsberg defending Rucker.

“Philip Rucker is one of the best and most scrupulous reporters in the news business,” Ginsberg said. “He has always acted with the utmost honor and integrity and has never violated Washington Post standards or policies.”

Notably, Ginsberg’s statement does not deny what Schwartz has alleged, that Rucker burned Westerhout’s off-the-record statement. A Post spokesperson has not replied to a follow-up email asking if the newspaper denies that.


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