The Washington Post did not reveal anything new by publishing transcripts Thursday of President Donald Trump’s telephone conversations earlier this year with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Much of the information about the call with Turnbull, for example, had been published earlier in the year (albeit sensationalized as “fake news” that Trump had hung up on Turnbull, which clearly did not happen.)
Trump said little in the call that he had not also said in public. It would have been a real problem, for instance, if he had privately told the Mexican president not to worry because he did not intend to build a wall along the border.
That is the kind of duplicity that President Barack Obama routinely practiced, though the leaks were far more rare. (The “open mic” moment with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev happened because Obama “leaked” it himself.)
It is not even clear when the transcripts leaked. The Post could have obtained the transcripts earlier, before Trump had appointed (and fired) Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, who promised to stop the leaks, and named former General John Kelly as his chief of staff. The Post could simply have held the transcripts in reserve to cause political problems for the administration at an opportune time. It is a political operation, not just a newspaper.
But the fact that the transcripts were leaked is a much bigger problem, as is the fact that the Post decided to publish them. It is alarming that someone with access to classified conversations between the president and foreign leaders would reveal their contents, in part or in full, to journalists. And it is appalling that the Post would reproduce them — with edits made carefully to protect the identity of its sources, but not the national security of the United States.
The president now knows that he cannot have private conversations with foreign leaders, and they know that he cannot have private conversations with him. That removes a major foreign policy tool from the president’s arsenal. He cannot pressure, he cannot negotiate, he cannot coordinate.
For someone elected to office on his record as a deal-maker, that is potentially a major setback — and both the leakers and the Post had to know that it would be so.
What the Post and its sources share is the desire to see the president removed from office. The message they are sending with the transcripts is that there are people with the power to prevent Trump from doing his job. It is, in effect, an argument for replacing him with someone more amenable to the wishes of the “deep state” and “swamp” media.
The Post‘s new slogan shouts, “Democracy dies in darkness.” It sometimes withers from overexposure, too.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.