Donald J. Trump suspects that senior White House staffer Valerie Jarrett leaked classified national security information to CNN reporter Jake Tapper and Buzz Feed on Tuesday. Trump has not made the allegations against Jarrett publicly but is likely to do so in the coming days.
At his wide ranging Wednesday press conference the President-Elect conceded that, at first, he suspected his own staff may have been leaking information to the press regarding his declination of national security briefings in recent weeks. As a result, he said he has since kept his meetings with the intelligence community from his staff.
The persistence of the intelligence-related leaks causes Trump to now suspect that they are coming from Jarrett, who is known to have a close relationship with Tapper since his days as a White House correspondent for ABC News in the early days of the Obama administration.
Once inaugurated, Trump could appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the matter.
Political operatives are likening the scandal to Scooter Libby’s leaking of clandestine CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity to CNN‘s Robert Novak in 2003. Libby was eventually convicted of obstruction of justice, spent 30 months in prison, lost his law license, and was fined $250,000.
Jarrett is a senior advisor to the president since he was inaugurated and has long been identified in press reports as President Obama’s closest confidant. Disclosing classified information is banned by 18 United States Code, section 798.
“I think it is disgraceful that the intelligence community allowed any information that turned out to be so wrong — and fake — out,” Trump said during the press conference. “It’s a disgrace. That’s something that Nazi Germany would do.”
“As far as Buzz Feed, which is a failing piece of garbage, it is going to suffer the consequences,” he added. “They ought to apologize, and they should start with Michael Cohen.”
Cohen, a longtime Trump staffer, was named in allegations published by Buzz Feed on Wednesday morning. Those allegations are falsehoods, the President-Elect insists. Cohen can produce his passport proving that he was not in Europe at the time he is alleged to have met with Russian officials in Prague. He was at a sporting event with his son at the time.
The document is purported to have been produced by former British intelligent agent Christopher Steele, who was hired by political operatives aligned with Hillary Clinton. That agent was tasked with conducting opposition research on the candidate, Buzz Feed claims.
President-Elect Trump refused to take a question from CNN reporter John Acosta, whose network he called “fake news.”
He was then asked by a reporter whether he would push for reforms to the news media industry.
“I don’t recommend reform. I recommend people who have a moral compass,” he responded. “All I can ask for is honest reporters.”
Trump supporters see the leak as one part of a broader conspiracy to undermine the incoming president by propagating a narrative that he is controlled by the Kremlin. The genesis of that narrative came during the presidential debates, when Clinton claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin saw Trump as a puppet.
The Democratic National Committee and the party apparatus has propagated that narrative with the help of political operatives at friendly media outlets, they argue.
Democrats point to his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a political consultant who has done work for Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian figure. Manafort has advised the presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole. He is a senior partner at the Washington-based lobbying firm Davis, Manafort, and Freedman.
Manafort joined the presidential campaign in March 2016 to lead Trump’s “delegate-corralling” efforts. By April 2016 Trump terminated campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and promoted Manafort to the position. Manafort gained control of the daily operations of the campaign as well as an expanded $20 million budget, hiring decisions, advertising, and media strategy.
On July 26, 2016, Donald Trump asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, a statement concurrent with word that American intelligence agencies had told the White House they now have “high confidence” that the Russian government used Guccifer 2.0, an instrumentality of the main Russian intelligence agency to hack emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee.
In August 2016, Manafort’s connections to former Ukrainian President Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of Regions drew national attention with salacious headlines that Manafort may have illegally received $12.7 million in off-the-books funds from the Party of Regions.
On August 17, 2016, Donald Trump received his first security briefing. Also on August 17, 2016, the New York Times reported on an internal staff memorandum from Manafort stating that Manafort would “remain the campaign chairman and chief strategist, providing the big-picture, long-range campaign vision”.
Two days later Trump announced his acceptance of Manafort’s resignation from the campaign and that Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway would take senior leadership roles.