Ignoring Explosive Russia Revelations, Trump Targets Whistleblower Instead
Charges against NSA contractor viewed as "the first salvo" in Trump's war on leakers
In the wake of a leaked NSA document detailing the agency's assessment of Russian hacking efforts in last year's election and news of the contractor who divulged the classified report being arrested, critics are voicing concern that President Donald Trump is now showing more interest in prosecuting a potential whisteblower than in the pursuit of those behind the hacking effort itself.
"Leak information about hacking our election: harsh consequences! Actually hack our election: no consequences."
The Intercept, which appears to have received the documents in the mail last month, first published the NSA's report on Monday in conjuction with an explosive analysis that examined alleged attempts by the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) to compromise crucial voter information.
Previous inquiries into the role the Russian government may have played in interfering with the 2016 presidential election concluded that "the Kremlin ordered an extensive, multi-pronged propaganda effort," but the latest leaks reveal, as The Intercept noted, that "Russian government hackers, part of a team with a 'cyber espionage mandate specifically directed at U.S. and foreign elections,' focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process, including a private sector manufacturer of devices that maintain and verify the voter rolls."
Throughout his presidency, Trump—who has been unnervingly blase in his own handling of state secrets—has frequently voiced fury at the seemingly endless stream of information that has flowed out of government agencies.
"Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years," Trump declared in February, adding that "low-life leakers...will be caught!"
The Justice Department on Monday took steps toward making good on Trump's promise by announcing charges against NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner, who the FBI alleges leaked the top secret documents.
While intelligence experts responded to the new revelations as a "huge" deal, Trump has continued to play down Russia's possible role in election meddling. The White House, meanwhile, has yet to speak on the contents of the documents.
Critics quickly called attention to this one-sided pursuit.
Leak information about hacking our election: harsh consequences!— Nicholas Thompson (@nxthompson) June 6, 2017
Actually hack our election: no consequences.
For some, the Justice Department's swift announcement, which came shortly after The Intercept posted the documents online, represents "the first salvo" in Trump's "war on leaks."
"The case showed the [Justice Department's] willingness to crack down on leaks, as Mr. Trump has called for in complaining that they are undermining his administration," the New York Times reported on Tuesday. "His grievances have contributed to a sometimes tense relationship with the intelligence agencies he now oversees."
Adding to concerns that the announcements could be the initial steps in a broader crackdown on leakers, ACLU attorney Patrick Toomey argued that leaks "are a vital source of information for the public in our democracy."
"It would be deeply troubling," he told the Daily Beast, "if this prosecution marked the beginning of a draconian crackdown on leaks to the press by the Trump administration."