White House

Like Obama, Trump says he’ll go after leakers

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. AP

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he has instructed his Department of Justice to investigate the leaks that have plagued his administration for the last month.

“We are looking into that very seriously,” he said at a lengthy news conference. “It’s a criminal act.”

Since being sworn into office Jan. 20, Trump has been besieged by a seemingly endless stream of leaks from the White House and federal agencies, a flow of critical information that’s contributed to the impression that the administration in chaos.

Trump said he was shocked when details leaked about his phone calls with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull because of all the high-tech telephone equipment available to the White House. But, he said, he wasn’t too worried because the calls were not crucial.

“I said ‘that’s terrible that it was leaked’ but it wasn’t that important. But then I said to myself ‘what happens when I’m dealing with the problem of North Korea?’ ” he said. “What happens when I’m dealing with the problems in the Middle East? . . . I don’t want classified information getting out to the public.”

Trump said the leaks were qualitatively different from leaks of emails pirated from the Democratic National Committee or from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and published by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks. Then Trump seemed to invite Russia to hack Clinton’s emails. “I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said in July.

On Thursday, however, he drew a distinction: the DNC emails weren’t classified.

“So, in one case, you’re talking about highly classified information,” Trump said. “In the other case, you’re talking about John Podesta saying bad things about the boss. I will say this, if John Podesta said that about me and he was working for me, I would have fired him so fast your head would have spun.”

Trump is hardly the first president to bemoan leaks. Former President Barack Obama engaged in an unprecedented crackdown on classified national security leaks that included prosecuting whistleblowers under the 1917 Espionage Act. Obama also targeted the journalists who received the leaks.

Days before he left office, Obama commuted the 35-year prison term of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence specialist who turned over some 700,000 classified and sensitive diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks and pardoned retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators when he denied that he revealed to the New York Times the existence of a highly classified campaign to cripple Iran’s nuclear program..

Trump blamed leaks for the ouster of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was caught discussing U.S.-Russia sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Trump said he suspected the leaks will stop now that his nominees for Cabinet secretaries have started to be confirmed.

“I think you’ll see it stopping because now we have our people in,” he said. “You know, again, we don’t have our people in because we can’t get them approved by the Senate.”