Aug. 4, 2017
Heather Hurlburt wrote for Fortune about why leaking will remain an integral part of politics and the Executive Branch.
Sometimes it seems as if Trump has suspended the laws of politics. But the natural law of leaking is immutable. Leaks are politics by other means. Leaks happen for some combination of three reasons: to change policy, to change personnel, or for the self-aggrandizement of the leaker. Threats of prosecution work best on the third motive, and they work best against individuals lodged in the bureaucracy who have careers to lose. But what is the threat of prosecution against the imperative of a president who explicitly sets his political appointees against each other and appears to enjoy watching them use leaks and the media like ancient gladiators used the rope and trident?
From his first January appearance at the Central Intelligence Agency, this president has encouraged the intelligence and national security officials who have the easiest access to sensitive information to believe that they are above the law, and that security is paramount. It is one all-too-short step from watching a president disclose classified information seemingly at random on Twitter (TWTR, -1.64%) or in bilateral meetings to concluding that other officials may use their interpretations of the national interest to do the same. The process of getting that idea back out of the policy process will be long and painful, and it is unlikely to happen through witch hunts of congressional staff and career officials.
But if history is any guide, that may not be where the newly invigorated leak investigations wind up. Remember how Richard Nixon’s “plumbers” were uncovered? A leak investigation.