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White House hunts for 'executive time' schedule leaker
By John F. Harris
The White House is aggressively investigating several leaks of President Donald Trump’s private schedules, a source of repeated embarrassment to the White House and the president himself.
West Wing officials managing the hunt have enlisted the help of the White House IT office, and believe they are making progress in narrowing the search for potential suspects. One Trump official said the culprit is likely a career government employee who works in the White House, not a person appointed by Trump himself, but did not offer specific evidence.
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The search has been approved by the office of acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Trump himself — who has been infuriated by leaks from within his White House — is aware of the mole hunt and supports the effort, according to one of the officials.
Axios on Sunday published Trump’s private schedules for the past three months that showed how he spent 60 percent of his time in unscheduled “executive time.” Aides say he uses those time blocks to watch TV, call people, read newspapers and do other work. Based on a week’s worth of these same private schedules, POLITICO had also reported in October Trump’s extensive amount of free time that’s unprecedented for presidents, including nine hours of “executive time” in one day.
Critics have ridiculed those time blocks, suggesting that they reveal a lazy and disengaged commander in chief who doesn’t take his job seriously. But White House officials and Trump allies insist such barbs are unfair, saying that the president actually makes productive use of his time.
“He’s not a slacker. The guy works. He may not have it all scheduled but the guy’s a grinder,” David Urban, a former senior Trump campaign adviser, said in an interview. “He’s not a guy who sits on his hands. Just because it’s not listed on the schedule,” that doesn’t mean that Trump isn’t doing substantive work. "I think it’s more the betrayal of who would give it up, more than anything,” Urban added.
On Twitter last week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich even favorably compared Trump to the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who often worked in bed while wearing pajamas, and said leaders’ schedules should be evaluated based on “achievement not activity.”
A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But after Sunday’s Axios story, the White House director of Oval Office operations, Madeleine Westerhout, tweeted that the leak had been a “disgraceful breach of trust” that failed to reflect “hundreds of calls and meetings.”
It’s a familiar position for the Trump White House, which has pledged to root out leakers in the past — most recently after a New York Times op-ed penned last year by a senior administration official identifiedonly as “part of the resistance inside the Trump administration.” In the wake of the op-ed’s publication, the White House embarked on a search for the official that has yet to turn up the culprit.
Although officials have suspects in mind, they say it is too soon to implicate anyone with high confidence. “Both career and political staff receive the daily public schedule, but I want to be very careful that we don’t try anyone in the press,” said one of the officials.
“It’s unprofessional to be trusted with information that is not intended to be publicly disclosed and then disclose it, whether it’s related to the president, related to your co-workers or your office, it’s just not professional behavior,” said the official.
The other official also said the version of the schedule given to Axios and previously to POLITICO “is very similar to the public version that we give to the press every single day. So that version of the schedule isn’t that secret.” The official noted that a much more tightly held personal private schedule that shows every call and meeting has not leaked. That would be an even more alarming breach for the White House.
“We all have much bigger things to worry about and much bigger things that are going on. so it’s not that big of a deal. but it’s more just unnecessary and it was just a petty thing to do,” said the person. “If you’re leaking the schedule, what else could you be leaking or what other information?”
While White House officials want to punish past leaking, they also hope that a vigorous search might create a deterrent against future leaks of damaging information.
“You take the list of who the schedule was sent to and you take who was on that list and who has access to certain things and it’s not that difficult to find out who the person is,” said one of the officials. “The government tracks everything on [employees’] computers.”
While every president has suffered leaks and breaches of trust, they have defined the Trump presidency more than any other. From the outset, Trump was forced to contend with leaked transcripts of his phone calls to such foreign leaders as Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
After he telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin last March to congratulate him on his recent reelection, The Washington Post disclosed that his staff had specifically given him a message before the call reading “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.”
Trump has also been contending with tell-all accounts from former loyalists within his White House. While disgruntled administration officials have aired their grievances in tell-all books before, Trump has endured more of these tomes, and earlier in his presidency, than any of his predecessor.
In the latest, former White House communications aide Cliff Sims recounts the president calling to demand the names of White House leakers.
“‘Give me their names,’ he said, his eyes narrowing,” Sims writes. “‘I want these people out of here. I’m going to take care of this. We’re going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-feeders.’”
The hunt continues — as do the leaks.
Gabby Orr contributed to this report.
LIBERTY HAS NO EXPIRATION DATEDemocrats wouldn't buy a clue if it was government subsidized.
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