Why are leaks and infighting plaguing Trump's presidency?


JUDY WOODRUFF: As senators continue their fight over health care, there are new feuds bubbling on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

From cracking down on leaks to weighing Attorney General Jeff Sessions' future, and the president calling for an end to transgender military service members, the White House is putting out a number of fires this week.

We turn to Karine Jean-Pierre. She's a senior adviser to MoveOn.org and a veteran of the Obama administration. And Matt Schlapp, he's the chairman of the American Conservative Union and the former deputy political director for President George W. Bush.

And welcome to both of you, Matt and Karine.

Speaking of fires, I have to ask both of you first about a story, a remarkable story that has just appeared late this afternoon in The New Yorker magazine, Matt.

READ MORE: White House communications director says he's willing to 'fire everybody' for leaking

Essentially it's the new head of communications at the White House, Anthony Scaramucci, placing a phone call last night to the writer Ryan Lizza and screaming at him, wanting to know who leaked information about a dinner, using very strong language, threatening — virtually threatening him, saying, I need to know who the leakers are, saying he's gone to the FBI, the Department of Justice.

What's going on at the White House?

MATT SCHLAPP, American Conservative Union: Well, on my drive over to the studio, I was going to have my 14-year-old daughter read this article to me. I'm glad I didn't, because it does have some colorful language.

I think Anthony Scaramucci is already out on Twitter apologizing for the language, but I think the key here is that this whole question of leaks inside the West Wing, it is a real cancer. And for those of us who want President Trump to succeed in his agenda, to succeed, it's been a real distraction to getting the agenda through.

And I think Scaramucci's trying to take care of the leaks, and, unfortunately, he thought he was having a conversation that was off-the-record, but apparently he didn't make that clear to the reporter.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karine, what does it say when you have this level of leaking and animosity going on inside the White House this early in the administration?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MoveOn.org: Well, it's quite insane. I worked in the White House in the Obama administration. I have never seen anything like this before.

But if this is Scaramucci's role, is to take care of the leaks, that's really going to be a full-time job for him. And, honestly, Judy, if he is — if that is something that he's truly working on, he needs to start in the Oval Office. He needs to start from the top all the way down. That's where the leaks are.

It's not the junior staffers. It's the senior staffers, starting with Donald Trump, the president. And the senior staffers are just trying the save their jobs. And that's why they're leaking the way that they are.

But, also, this is a reason why for the first six months of the administration, that this administration has not been able to get anything done. They have not really passed one piece of major legislation, because of stuff like this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Matt, what about that, the fact that it's just — it's not just — it's not lower-level people who are talking to the press; it's people up and down and going all the way to the top of the White House?


So, I mean, there are always leaks that come out of the White House. And, sometimes, those leaks are intended to inform the press in kind of an anonymous fashion. But what's happened in the Trump White House, it's just a melee of weeks, where people are leaking on each other in the West Wing.


MATT SCHLAPP: I think that the White House — the West Wing wasn't set up to be efficient and successful from the very beginning.

I think they actually can look at the way that they set up the West Wing, and there's not a kind of a sheriff in town. I remember, when I worked for Andy Card in the West Wing, and he told me, especially when I took the job as political director, he said, if you miss — if you overstep your trust with the president, there will be a cardboard box on your desk, fill it and leave.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I was struck. I just …

MATT SCHLAPP: Now, he didn't do that to me, but he would have done it had I overstepped the boundaries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to stay with you just a moment, Matt, because there is a line in here that really strikes me.

Ryan Lizza with The New Yorker writes, he said: "Unlike other Trump advisers, I have never heard him," meaning Scaramucci, "say a bad word about the president."

So he's saying everybody else is criticizing the president who hired them.

MATT SCHLAPP: Well, I don't want the get into — I don't know these conversations. All I can tell you is that one of the issues, as the West Wing was pulled together, the staff was pulled together, is it was kind of an interesting concoction of people that weren't really with the president's campaign.

So, he did pull together people, maybe in the hopes to kind of like bring kind of unity to the party. But it has always been fearful that you had people who were either never-Trump or didn't have much respect for the Trump — for President Trump who got senior administration positions.

And I worked for a Republican president who I admired and who I loved and I would have just done almost anything for professionally, and when you don't have that spirit with some staffers, it can cause a lot of problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karine, I know I'm asking you as an outsider and somebody from the other party to weigh in on this, but do you see a solution here?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: No, not at all.

Look, I think I have said this before on your show, Judy, which is the fish rots at his head. This is the type of environment that Donald Trump has set up. He's brought in the corporate life, the way he was as a CEO, as the head of Trump Organization, and brought it into the White House.

He loves this stuff. He loves the inter-fighting. He likes when they're fighting for his — the dear leader affection of Donald Trump. And so it's not going to — it doesn't matter if it's Scaramucci. It doesn't matter who it is. It doesn't matter if Priebus stays or leaves. It starts with the person at the top, and that's Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, one other — two other things I want to ask you both about, but first the announcement by Twitter yesterday from the president that he wanted to ban all people who are transgender from serving in the military.

And, Matt, I want to go back and remind — show everybody in our audience, this is what the president had to say last year, just a year ago, that this was the day after the Orlando nightclub shooting. He gave a national security speech in New Hampshire, and here's what he had to say.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Ask yourself, who is really the friend of women and the LB — and LGBT community, Donald Trump, with actions, or Hillary Clinton, with her words?

I will tell you who the better friend is, and, someday, I believe that will be proven out bigly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Matt, how do you explain the transgender military decision?

MATT SCHLAPP: Well, for seven-and-a-half years of the Obama administration, they had a prohibition that equates to what President Trump announced.

Now, all we have is a tweet. I don't know what it means in detail. I don't know what it means for the people serving, but you get to this basic question, right, which is, you know, what do the commanders want in the field, right?

And I think that what was intended by this administration, at least what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, to expand upon the tweet, was that he is listening to the services and what they want. And for seven-and-a-half years in the Obama administration, they had a similar plan, not because I think there was animus towards transgender people or the gay community.

I think it was because they were simply focusing on what generals were saying they needed to be ready in the field. But this will all be handled in Congress. The funding all goes through Congress, and we will have a democratic debate on whether or not this should happen or not.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Karine, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, said today that — they said, we're waiting for guidance. Right now, we want to continue to respect everybody in the military.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: That's right, Judy.

Look, usually, when you make this type of policy, you articulate it on paper, you create a policy. You don't tweet about it. And so the Pentagon can't actually act on this. They can't act on a tweet. They were never given a piece of policy.

And so, once again, you have a president who doesn't care to learn, who doesn't know how the process works, and he uses Twitter to put — to really feed his base. And that's what we're seeing.

And, look, the other part about this, too, is that he made that promise during the election. It was an outrageous comment when we heard it. No one ever — no one really, truly believed it. And it became a lie on day one of his administration.

This is not an administration that cares about brown people, black people or transgendered or LGBT communities. We have seen this — or women.


MATT SCHLAPP: I don't think that accurately describes Donald Trump's heart.

I have talked to him about these sets of issues. For seven-and-a-half years of the Obama administration, they had the very same policy. And I don't think that President Obama was discriminating for those seven-and-a-half years. And I think the next question on…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You're saying it was only at the end when they changed the policy.

MATT SCHLAPP: They changed it at the end. But, really, the military hasn't understood how to implement this.

And Secretary of Defense Mattis and all of the service chiefs knew that they were in the process of review. They have been discussing this. People who track this issue knew that they were trying to figure out, could this be implemented or not?

JUDY WOODRUFF: But still no paper. It was a tweet.

MATT SCHLAPP: Well, the announcement is completely unconventional. It's hard for somebody like me to even explain what the implications are. The country needs the details on this.

So, I think Karine's point on that is very fair.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, finally, to both of you, Karine.

You expect the attorney general to stay where he is, Jeff Sessions, given what's going on?

READ MORE: Sessions to AP: I'm not stepping down unless asked

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I will try to be really quick here, Judy.

Look, I do not think the attorney general should be the attorney general. I think he is a racist. I think he has racist background. And he lied and perjured himself in front of Congress.

But that's not the reason why Donald Trump doesn't want him in the job anymore. He doesn't want him in the job because of the Russia thing. He wants — he was upset that Sessions didn't recuse himself, and he wants to fire Bob Mueller. That's why he wants to get rid of Sessions.

MATT SCHLAPP: President Trump doesn't want Jeff Sessions to leave the office of the attorney general.

I think what President Trump is saying is, he's frustrated that a special counsel was picked without it even being run by Jeff Sessions, and that that investigation seems to be overshadowing his presidency.

When you have seen the leaks that have come out against Donald Trump, when you have seen that the DNC has a staffer that's worked with the government of Ukraine, there are plenty of things on the other side of the ledger that I think Republicans would like to see DOJ look at as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He's been pretty tough on this attorney general, though, the last few days.

MATT SCHLAPP: He has been.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Matt Schlapp, Karine Jean-Pierre, thank you both.

MATT SCHLAPP: Thank you, Judy.


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