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NEW YORK (AP) — When White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer wanted to crack down on leaks last week, he collected his aides’ cell phones to check for communication with reporters. The crackdown quickly leaked.
President Donald Trump now says he probably would have handled the situation differently, meeting with staff one-on-one instead — but perhaps still demanding to look at their phones.
“I mean, you know, there are things you can do that are a hell of a lot worse than that, I’ll be honest with you,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” in an interview aired Tuesday.
Trump denied that there was a “major leak process” at the White House. So who did it?
“We have sort of ideas,” Trump said. “But don’t forget, we have people from other campaigns, we have people from other governments. We’ve got a lot of people here.”
Spicer’s losing round in Washington’s perpetual game of information Whack-a-mole was hardly a surprise. In trying to plug leaks from anonymous sources, President Donald Trump and his aides are going after one of the most entrenched practices in Washington politics and journalism, an exercise that has exposed corruption, fueled scandals and spread gossip for decades.
But the practice has created several headaches for the new president, leading Trump, just weeks into his presidency, to publicly vow to try to punish “low-life leakers” in his own administration.
“Let their name be put out there,’ Trump said before the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, accusing reporters of making up anonymous sources and stories. He declared reporters shouldn’t be allowed to use sources “unless they use somebody’s name.”
“‘A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being.’ Let ’em say it to my face.”
But Trump’s administration has not been practicing what the boss preached. Despite the president’s anger about unnamed sources, White House budget officials insisted on anonymity Monday as they outlined details of Trump’s spending plans to reporters on a conference call. The budget officials ignored requests to put the briefing on the record.
Several anonymously sourced stories have driven Trump coverage: revelations that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had lied about conversations with Russians about sanctions; details of private phone calls Trump had with leaders of Australia and Mexico; draft memos of policy plans for actions like rounding up undocumented aliens.
Trump isn’t the first president to be frustrated by leaks.
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Associated Press writers Ted Bridis and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.