President Donald Trump and his aides’ hatred of White House staffers dishing to journalists is matched only by their collective inability to stop dishing to journalists. There are plenty of reasons to talk to reporters—protest and self-preservation first among them—and slices of life behind the Oval Office curtain have continued trickling out despite Trump recently comparing the supposed offense to treason.
This fixation on controlling the narrative has apparently intensified, according to a Sunday report in the New York Times that details the “numbness and resignation” of those working in the West Wing (emphasis mine):
Even as his administration faces a series of diplomatic high-wire acts, including persuading Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to give up his nuclear arsenal, Mr. Trump has remained fixated on leaks back home. He has recently pitted aides against one another in his search to find those who may be disloyal.
“Is he the leaker? Is she the leaker?” Mr. Trump asks visitors to the Oval Office, or outside advisers he talks to on the phone, whenever the names of specific staff members come up.
Some aides have sought to stoke the president’s fears about leaks, trying to identify people who could be disloyal: At least one senior aide is dropping inaccurate stories into the West Wing rumor mill to identify people who speak to reporters.
A senior official reportedly creating fake stories in order to hunt down people who share real ones? Sounds like an amazing work environment. It should be no surprise, then, to learn that the White House staff has been progressively whittled down to exclude those who aren’t true believers. BuzzFeed reported earlier this month that the staff exodus has made reporting especially hard for journalists. “I always describe having sources in this White House as being like adopting a terminally ill rescue dog,” one White House aide told the site. “As soon as you get it to trust you, it dies.”
But it hasn’t stopped stories from coming out; the infighting and internal drama that tends to drive leaks is apparently too great. Human political newsletter Mike Allen, of Axios, has said that the rate of information streaming out of the White House far outpaces that of previous administrations. And the leak-driven Axios itself published an explainer of why aides gab to the press, and how they’re attempting to protect themselves given all the internal pressure. “To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers’ idioms and use that in my background quotes,” one White House official told Axios. “That throws the scent off me.”
So maybe the possibility that a top aide is spreading false stories around the West Wing isn’t so outlandish to those working there. Now that word is out—leaked to the press, of course—maybe others will follow suit.