Why Trump’s White House Leaked and Biden’s Hasn’t

“four years ago, the Trump administration had already burst its banks with sensational, revealing and damaging leaks. The Washington Post had reported the dodgy phone conversations between President Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. An executive memo about reestablishing CIA “black site” prisons had appeared in the New York Times. Trump advisers candidly—though anonymously—gossiped with the New York Times about the president’s “impetuous,” impulsive ways and his reliance on “alternative facts.” And a confidential White House request that the FBI publicly discredit reports of Trump campaign connections to Russian intelligence seeped onto CNN.

In comparison, the Biden White House has been as tight as an airlock on the International Space Station.”

“What’s been Biden’s no-drip secret? To begin with, he ran a relatively leak-free presidential campaign, mirroring the leak-avoiding practices of the Obama administration, in which he served. As one prone to gaffes, it probably wasn’t easy for him to zip it, but it has seemed to become second nature to him. Running his campaign from his basement, Biden didn’t feel the need to leak to place himself in the news. If he wanted attention, he could command the press corps’ focus quickly and efficiently. The lesson extended to his staff, which tended to keep traps shut and not fill the blanks with anonymous comments for insistent reporters. In December, Biden press secretary Jen Psaki made this covert strategy overt when she promised the new administration would speak with one voice, a direct dig at the back-stabbing and duplicitous leaking that typified the Trump presidency.”

“The Trump administration leaked so copiously because he had assembled not a team of rivals to serve under him but a team of enemies, who used the press to fight their policy battles and wage psychological warfare on each other in public. For example, the Javanka faction in his White House advanced a personal PR agenda separate from the president’s, and their White House enemies were forever leaking information about the power couple to disable them. Biden, who has no analogous warring factions, has had an easier time keeping the peace.

Trump both craved and reveled in these internal death matches, something you can’t imagine Biden doing. Trump was forever calling his kitchen cabinet of corporate titans and irregulars like Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Rudy Giuliani and Sean Hannity for advice and gossip, and those conversations tended to leak. Biden, on the other hand, tends not to go off-site for counsel; his closest advisers have been the same people for decades, and they’re installed physically close to him in the West Wing. With fewer people in fewer places tasting the unadulterated Biden, less gossip flows to reporters. Finally, Trump was notorious for not keeping up on his reading. If an aide wanted to direct his attention to some issue, often the best way to do so was to get it to his boss on TV, leaking the material to reporters so Trump would see it on cable news. This put Trump on both the supply and the demand sides for leaks.”

“In his 2018 book, The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game, journalist Ronald Kessler maintains that Trump managed the news by calling reporters and feeding them inside dope that he insisted be attributed to “a senior White House official.” Kessler continues, “In other cases, the media has picked up reports on what Trump himself has said to his friends.”

The most reliable non-Trump spigot for leaks was top adviser Kellyanne Conway, Kessler wrote, and her example inspired others in the White House to leak. The more Trump aides leaked and the more they got away with it—remember how one midlevel Trumpie wrote an anonymous New York Times op-ed about the Trump White House and then a whole book?—the more they did it. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say there were more leakers than non-leakers in Trump’s universe.”


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