U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at swearing in ceremonies for new CIA Director Gina Haspel at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in...
KEVIN LAMARQUE

White House tries to accommodate Trump’s trouble keeping secrets

Updated

A few top officials at the White House, including the president, get a sneak peak at monthly job reports before the data is released to the public, though those officials are sworn to secrecy. Given the importance of the figures, and the impact they can have on markets, the White House has a responsibility to treat the job numbers as if they were classified.

It therefore came as something of a surprise on Friday morning when Donald Trump, about an hour before the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the data, declared via Twitter, “Looking forward to seeing the employment numbers at 8:30 this morning.” It was a radical break with decades of protocol, which signaled to the world that the job numbers would look encouraging (since if they were discouraging, he wouldn’t be “looking forward to” the release of the report).

Asked if the tweet resulted from a breakdown in White House processes, one source told the Wall Street Journal, “It was a breakdown in [the president’s] conduct.”

It’s against this backdrop that Politico  noted some behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt this morning:

… [B]efore he left the White House, former National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn would withhold jobs report data from President Trump until shortly before their release because he was worried the president couldn’t help but say something about them.

This comes a day after CNN, citing two White House sources, reported that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin “has kept sensitive logistical details from Trump … for fear that the president might tweet about them and upend the plans.”

The same report noted that Boeing executives told Trump during his presidential-transition process to keep details about a new Air Force One fleet under wraps, but he ended up tweeting about it anyway.

All of this, of course, comes on the heels of reports about Trump sharing sensitive national security information, including an incident in which he provided highly classified intelligence to Russian officials.

About a month after Trump’s inauguration, the Wall Street Journal  reported that U.S. intelligence officials were worried about the new president’s “trustworthiness” and “discretion.” In retrospect, it looks like they were onto something.

Politico had a related report on Friday about the president having “a hard time keeping a secret.”

Political allies and former advisers concede that Trump has trouble holding his tongue — especially when he can boost his image or clinch an argument. The president’s flair for speaking freely, they say, was formed during his heyday as a New York tabloid fixture, when he straddled the worlds of entertainment and business and learned the power of gossip and illicit truths.

“He’s good at keeping secrets that involve him,” said Sam Nunberg, one of Trump’s earliest 2016 presidential campaign aides. Invoking the Yiddish word for a female gossip, he added of Trump: “On the other hand, the guy’s a f**king yenta.”

While loose lips are common in Washington, Trump’s style hardly meshes well with a president’s responsibility to protect the deluge of political and state secrets that cross his desk.

The distinction that Nunberg pointed to is an important one, because the problem is not that Trump can’t keep secrets; it’s that he can’t keep our secrets.

After all, there are all kinds of things Trump doesn’t want to disclose to the public – his tax returns, the White House visitor logs, information about his golf outings – and he seems to have no trouble keeping that information shielded from view. But when it comes sensitive governmental information, the president too often throws caution and discretion out the window.

In this sense, Trump has adopted a posture that’s the worst of both worlds: he hides the information he’s supposed to disclose, and he shares the information he’s supposed to keep secret.