Government & Communications

Attempts by governmental bodies to improve or impede communications with or between the citizenry.

President Trump critics say latest leaks go too far

Even critics of President Trump seem to agree: The leakers have gone too far. Many in Washington are expressing alarm that the transcripts of Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders were leaked to The Washington Post, warning that the action could undermine the U.S. government and imperil national security. “This is beyond the pale and will have a chilling effect going forward on the ability of the commander in chief to have candid discussions with his counterparts,” said Ned Price, a former National Security Council official under President Barack Obama. “Granted, the White House contributed to this atmosphere by welcoming the free-for-all environment, where anonymous leaks are commonplace. But we must draw the line somewhere.”

Why Leaking Transcripts of Trump's Calls Is So Dangerous

[Commentary] Leaking the transcript of a presidential call to a foreign leader is unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous. It is vitally important that a president be able to speak confidentially—and perhaps even more important that foreign leaders understand that they can reply in confidence.

Aug 3’s leak to The Washington Post of President Trump’s calls with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia will reverberate around the world. No leader will again speak candidly on the phone to Washington (DC)—at least for the duration of this presidency, and perhaps for longer. If these calls can be leaked, any call can be leaked—and no leader dare say anything to the president of the United States that he or she would not wish to read in the news at home.

[David Frum is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.]

President Trump urged Mexican president to end his public defiance on border wall, transcript reveals

President Donald Trump made building a wall along the southern US border and forcing Mexico to pay for it core pledges of his campaign. But in his first White House call with Mexico’s president, President Trump described his vow to charge Mexico as a growing political problem, pressuring the Mexican leader to stop saying publicly that his government would never pay. “You cannot say that to the press,” President Trump said repeatedly, according to a transcript of the Jan 27 call obtained by The Washington Post.

President Trump made clear that he realized the funding would have to come from other sources but threatened to cut off contact if Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto continued to make defiant statements. The funding “will work out in the formula somehow,” President Trump said, adding later that “it will come out in the wash, and that is okay.” But “if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that.”

Why the leaked presidential transcripts are so frightening

[Commentary] First, it is shocking to see presidential conversations released in this way. Some in the executive branch, as Anthony Scaramucci aptly put it, are intent on protecting the country from President Trump. This is a good thing, by the way. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has obviously failed to plug the flood leaks, and one wonders whether a leak this egregious is meant to signal that the White House will remain dysfunctional.

And that brings us to the next point: Trump is frighteningly obsessed with himself and his image to such an extent that he cannot fulfill the role of commander in chief. Third, President Trump’s narcissism leaves him open to flattery and threats (to reveal embarrassing material, for example). That’s the worry in the Russia investigation — namely, that Vladimir Putin has “something” on Trump, which compels Trump to act in ways inimical to U.S. interests. President Trump’s interests are paramount, so a cagey adversary can easily manipulate him.

The Supreme Court is about to become more transparent, thanks to technology

After lagging behind other courts for years, the Supreme Court is finally catching up on a key technological feature that will be a boon to researchers, lawyers and analysts of all kinds. It's moving to adopt electronic filing. The change will allow the public to access legal filings for all future cases — free of charge. Beginning Nov 13, the court will require “parties who are represented by counsel” to upload digital copies of their paper submissions. Parties representing themselves will have their filings uploaded by the court's staff. All those submissions will then be entered into an online docket for each case, and they will be accessible from the court's homepage. The move brings the Supreme Court fully into the Internet age.

Information Security: OPM Has Improved Controls, but Further Efforts Are Needed

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) collects and maintains personal data on millions of individuals, including data related to security clearance investigations. In 2015, OPM reported significant breaches of personal information that affected 21.5 million individuals. The Senate report accompanying the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2016 included a provision for GAO to review information security at OPM. GAO evaluated OPM's (1) actions since the 2015 reported data breaches to prevent, mitigate, and respond to data breaches involving sensitive personnel records and information; (2) information security policies and practices for implementing selected government-wide initiatives and requirements; and (3) procedures for overseeing the security of OPM information maintained by contractors providing IT services. To do so, GAO examined policies, plans, and procedures and other documents; tested controls for selected systems; and interviewed officials. This is a public version of a sensitive report being issued concurrently. GAO omitted certain specific examples due to the sensitive nature of the information.

GAO is making five recommendations to improve OPM's security. OPM concurred with four of these and partially concurred with the one on validating its corrective actions. GAO continues to believe that implementation of this recommendation is warranted. In GAO's limited distribution report, GAO made nine additional recommendations.

White House aide Miller blasts CNN reporter for 'cosmopolitan bias'

White House aide Stephen Miller clashed with CNN's Jim Acosta over the White House's new preferred immigration policy, at one point lambasting the reporter as a "cosmopolitan." The exchange was among several contentious moments at the White House briefing, where Miller touted a bill reducing legal immigration that President Donald Trump helped roll out Aug 2.

Miller and Acosta butted heads over the legislation. Acosta, who said his father immigrated from Cuba before the Cuban Missile Crisis, questioned whether the White House's policy is in keeping with American tradition. "You are sort of bringing a 'press 1 for English' philosophy here to immigration and that's never been what the United States has been about," Acosta said. "Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?" Miller pounced at that point. "I can honestly say: I am shocked at your statement that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree, this is an amazing moment," he said, speaking over Acosta as the reporter tried to interject.

CJR partners with journalism groups to launch the US Press Freedom Tracker

Columbia Journalism Review is partnering with the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Freedom of the Press Foundation to launch a website that documents press freedom incidents around the country. The site, US Press Freedom Tracker, is nonpartisan and captures incidents involving journalists such as arrests, border stops, equipment searches and seizures, leak prosecutions, physical attacks or threats, and subpoenas.

US Press Freedom Tracker, which launches Aug 2, gathers those data points from news stories and tips, and it’s free for all to use—journalists and news consumers alike. The Freedom of the Press Foundation is running the tracker’s day-to-day operations, with Peter Sterne, its senior reporter, serving as managing editor. The Committee to Protect Journalists provided the initial funding. CJR is among 20-some journalism and press freedom organizations supporting the tracker. Other supporters include the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reporters Without Borders, Free Press, Investigative Reporters & Editors, Poynter, and the Society of Professional Journalists.

President Trump now has a "real news" program on his Facebook, hosted by his daughter-in-law

President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, hosted a “real news” program on his official Facebook page July 30, ostensibly highlighting the president’s accomplishments that she argued have been overshadowed by “fake news.” The video, first reported by BuzzFeed, featured Lara Trump against a Trump-Pence background as she highlighted several stories, such as the president donating his salary each quarter, the country’s economic growth, and president’s interactions with military veterans and the police, which Trump’s daughter-in-law says she “bet[s] you haven’t heard about because there’s so much fake news out there.”

This program, which has more than 2 million views on Facebook, might be a partial fulfillment of rumors from the campaign of the development of a “Trump TV” program. As Vanity Fair reported, Trump was frustrated at the revenue he was generating for other media companies during the presidential campaign, and “win or lose,” those in the Trump campaign thought they had tapped into something. When asked in October by CNN if Trump was considering such a move, then-campaign CEO Steve Bannon only would say, “Trump is an entrepreneur.”

You don’t have to believe everything in that Seth Rich lawsuit. What’s been confirmed is bad enough.

[Commentary] Some of the Rod Wheeler/Seth Rich lawsuit is now undeniable: An outrageously bogus news story was known about, and apparently not discouraged, within the West Wing well before it was published. And once it was published, it become endless fodder for the president’s staunchest defenders: Alex Jones, Newt Gingrich and, more than any other person, Fox’s Sean Hannity — who stopped hammering away at it only when Rich’s parents implored him to stop trashing their son’s name. One of the ugliest falsehoods of the current political era may have been cheered on by the White House. At the very least, it got tacit approval. And that’s bad enough.