When John Kelly took over as White House chief of staff, one of the changes he tried to impose was limiting the flow of information into the Oval Office. To that end, the retired general paid close attention to the calls going to and from the president.
It wasn’t long before we saw reports that Trump didn’t much care for these constraints, so he’d rely on his personal cell phone to circumvent Kelly’s gatekeeper controls. CNN reported yesterday that the president is apparently doing this more often.
President Donald Trump is increasingly relying on his personal cell phone to contact outside advisers, multiple sources inside and outside the White House told CNN, as Trump returns to the free-wheeling mode of operation that characterized the earliest days of his administration.
“He uses it a lot more often more recently,” a senior White House official said of the President’s cell phone…. While Trump never entirely gave up his personal cell phone once Kelly came aboard, one source close to the White House speculated that the President is ramping up the use of his personal device recently in part because “he doesn’t want Kelly to know who he’s talking to.”
In case this isn’t obvious, a normal, functional White House isn’t supposed to operate this way.
But looking past the behind-the-scenes intrigue, there’s a more practical question to consider: how secure is Trump’s personal cell phone?
In the early days of Trump’s presidency, there were a variety of reports that the Republican was making use of an “old” and “unsecured” phone, to the frustration of his aides. I’d hoped the issue would be addressed soon after.
That may not be the case. The CNN report didn’t explicitly say the president is using an unsecured phone, but it quoted a former head of the Justice Department’s national security division saying Trump’s personal phone “may not have all of the security features” it needs. The report added that the president’s phone could be “vulnerable to eavesdropping from foreign governments.”
I’m reluctant to draw sweeping conclusions from ambiguous reporting. It’s possible, for example, that Trump’s personal cell phone has been equipped with the latest safeguards and there is no security risk.
But with CNN’s report in mind, it also seems possible that the president isn’t taking the necessary precautions and is instead doing sensitive governmental work on an unsecured personal device.
Remind me, is that the sort of thing the political world cares about? Maybe the kind of question that requires intense FBI scrutiny and endless congressional hearings? Perhaps the kind of issue national news organizations will obsess over for months, as part of an effort that suggests to the American electorate that it’s one of the country’s most important issues when choosing a president?
Two weeks after Trump’s inauguration, NPR quoted a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins saying, “If President Trump is carrying around an unsecured Android phone, that’s 1,000 times worse than using a personal email server.”
With this in mind, perhaps the White House can offer the public some kind of official explanation, detailing what kind of phone Trump is using and why.