Former National Security Council Official Provides Insight Into White House Leaks
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Ned Price was in the National Security Council under President Obama, and he joins us now for some insight into who leaks and why. Welcome back.
NED PRICE: Thank you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: President Trump describes leakers as enemies who are out to get him. Is that generally the reason people leak - to get political revenge or something like that?
PRICE: Well, Ari, it's difficult to paint with such a broad brush. There are certainly illegal leaks of appropriately classified information, which is in almost all cases illegal. But then there is the leaks of so-called palace intrigue, the dynamics within the White House, who's up and who's down, who's taking which position vis-a-vis which policy idea or prerogative. So this administration has very deliberately I think tried to paint with too broad a brush in criminalizing all variety of leaks.
SHAPIRO: Is it possible for you to draw a profile of a typical leaker within the administration?
PRICE: Well, it's really difficult to do so. There are varying motivations of leakers within any administration. Some do it to advance policy battles. If they're espousing a policy position that would help from the daylight of public view, they might decide to leak. Some do it for their own ego. By divulging information to a reporter, they feel important. They feel like they are part of the story. Others do it to torpedo other ideas that have been seen out there. And some, I suspect, in this administration more and more do it because they believe that this administration is doing wrong by their country. They believe that this administration is subverting the will of the American people, is making us less safe.
SHAPIRO: So leaks about who's up and who's down are one thing. But I understand you believe that the leaks of the transcripts of calls with foreign leaders that The Washington Post published yesterday crossed a line. Explain why.
PRICE: Well, that's right. To my mind, the leak itself was really beyond the pale. It in no way served the national interest. And let me explain why. We didn't need those leaked transcripts to tell us that Donald Trump is a liar, is a prevaricator, is a political phony. We've known that in some respects all along. What these leaks did do, however, is they have sowed doubt within all of President Trump's foreign counterparts and frankly the counterparts of subsequent presidents of the United States that their calls, their transcripts could be leaked verbatim like that.
SHAPIRO: Couldn't one argue that you're applying a double standard here, that if the president is having a conversation with a senior aide in the Oval Office, he should expect that that will remain private just as much as the head of Australia or Mexico should expect that his conversation with the president will remain private? So why is the Oval Office leak OK but the leak of a transcript with a foreign leader isn't?
PRICE: Well, look; foreign counterpart calls are a key element of diplomacy. The president of the United States, be it President Trump, President Obama or any of their predecessors, use their conversations with foreign leaders to discuss the most sensitive issues there are - issues of war and peace, issues of international security. And if leaders on the other end of the call are speaking with an assumption or even a presumption that their transcripts, that their remarks could end up on the front page of The Washington Post wholesale or verbatim, they are not going to offer the same sort of unvarnished, unbiased or even politically inopportune views that our counterparts need to provide the president of the United States.
Discussions in the Oval Office are very different. Some of them clearly are classified. Some of them clearly involve matters of national security and intelligence and covert action and should never see the light of day. But if a senior adviser is speaking about a political tactic, that's a far cry from the president's discussion with one of his overseas counterparts.
SHAPIRO: Do you think the Justice Department's attempt to crack down on leaks is likely to work? Will we see less leaking because of it?
PRICE: These crackdowns historically have not been all that successful. I mean you might recall that the Obama administration was quite aggressive in going after leakers. Now, clearly the Trump administration is trying to take that up a notch. But there is such chaos and disarray within the national security establishment. And I think that as long as the president and his senior advisers continue to needle their national security establishment, I'm not sure we'll see a diminishing in these leaks.
SHAPIRO: Ned Price, former Obama administration national security council official and CIA officer, thanks for joining us.
PRICE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.