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A Mole ?

Trump White House besieged by leaks

Donald Trump 's White House has sprung a remarkable number of leaks since his inauguration.

The question is where they're coming from.

Barely a day goes by without some unusual tale emerging from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Recent examples in a single New York Times story included the assertion that White House aides have held meetings in the dark because they can't figure out how the lights work and that the president is fond of watching television alone in his bathrobe.

Trump took to Twitter to assert that the Times “writes total fiction” about him, while White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted that the president does not even own a bathrobe.

More serious matters have been leaked as well, such as descriptions of Trump's call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Trump apparently said a U.S.-Australia deal on refugees, agreed to by President Obama, was “the worst deal ever,” and told Turnbull their conversation was “the worst call by far” among several he had held with world leaders that day.

The leakiness of the Trump White House has been a boon to the press corps, who find themselves feasting on the juicy insider details that were hard to come by during the “No Drama Obama” years.

But to those rooting for a successful Trump presidency, the picture looks very different.

“There have been a ton of leaks. It seems that everyone has their own leaking apparatus,” lamented one Trump ally who works outside the White House. 

The ally argued the leaking has become so profligate that it's hurting the administration, forcing White House officials to deal with internal turmoil instead of their opponents outside the building.

“I don't know how it affects morale, but it is certainly a distraction,” the source said. “They have 55 firehoses aimed at them. Enough of the palace intrigue!”

The speculation about who's up and who's down among Trump's cadre of advisors won't subside anytime soon, however.

In part, that's because any leak that emerges is immediately parsed for clues as to the source — and whom they might be intending to harm.

Much of the intrigue centers upon the relationship between Stephen Bannon, the former Breitbart News executive who is now a senior counselor to the president, and former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who is now White House chief of staff.

Trump announced the two men's appointments simultaneously, but they were immediately perceived as potentially antagonistic figures — Bannon the happy warrior suspicious of the GOP establishment, and Priebus the emblem of that establishment.

But insiders say it's an oversimplification to perceive the Trump White House as divided between two warring camps.

Some suggest that the two men are more collegial than is generally recognized. 

Others note that there are other big players in Trump's White House who have their own standing and cannot be categorized as a foot soldier for either man. The two names most often cited are counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

What Conway and Kushner have in common is a genuine closeness to Trump. Spicer, a Priebus ally, is generally perceived to have no such cover, which may be one reason why he appears to have suffered more than anyone else from damaging leaks to the press.

By various accounts, the president has been displeased by Spicer's general performance, by the cut of his suits and even by the fact that the press secretary was caricatured by a woman, Melissa McCarthy, on the most recent episode of NBC's “Saturday Night Live.” 

On Tuesday, CNN reported that there was already a search underway to lighten Spicer's workload by finding someone to take over one of his roles, that of communications director. 

While it is unusual for someone to be both communications director and press secretary — and the CNN story also included a senior administration official attesting that Trump supports Spicer “100 percent” — the story looked like yet another arrow aimed at the man behind the White House lectern. 

More broadly, the multiplicity of power centers — not just one or two — in the Trump White House only heightens the intrigue. Some Republicans worry that it has also engendered a sense of ruthlessness among the key players when it comes to protecting their positions.

“It's clear that a few individuals believe that if they kneecap a few of their colleagues, they will benefit — whereas, in fact, they are weakening the president,” said Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and Contributor for The Hill. 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump's presidency.

Niall Stanage / The Hill / Feb. 09, 2017

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