Leaking Information, Federal Employees and Political Ideology

An investigation into leaking intelligence information surrounding the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn has been requested by two House Committees. This begs the question, should federal employees work to oppose President Trump?

Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn resigned this week from his position as head of the National Security Council. The resignation occurred after losing the president’s trust by not disclosing his conversations with Russian officials to senior White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, according to published reports.

Requesting an Investigation into Leaks

Now, the House Oversight Committee is examining issues related to conflicts of interest and protection of classified information in the White House.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight Government Reform, and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, have sent a letter to the Inspector General for the Department of Justice requesting an investigation.

Other reports cited a “U.S. intelligence agency’s monitoring of Flynn’s calls or calls with Russia Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.”

As the release of national classified information can have “grave effects on national security,” the committees are seeking an investigation into whether classified information was mishandled.

Asking Justice IG to Investigate

Obviously, the release of information gathered by American intelligence agencies that may have been classified is a serious matter with substantial potential repercussions.

The letter notes there have been news reports “recounting potentially classified national security information.” Reports indicated the “National Security Division of the Department of Justice had applied for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to intercept electronic records from Russian banks.”

Earlier this week, President Trump commented, “Papers are being leaked, things are being leaked, it’s criminal action, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time.” He also sent out a tweet on this topic promising to catch the leakers:

The choice of asking the Justice IG instead of the Intelligence Community to conduct an investigation is probably significant. It may mean that the source of the leak is thought to be within the Department of Justice. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions now in office, an investigation is likely to be thorough.

With the spotlight brightly shining on these events, there is a good chance that the identity of those who leaked information will eventually be revealed.

Mr. Trump, “ain’t the boss of me.”

In the background of this request for an investigation are statements such as this in news reports: “Some federal employees are gearing up for a cyber-battle against President Trump, and they are creating a hidden messaging system to elude detection.”

Employees at the State Department, Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency are reportedly engaging in activities to resist complying with policies of the Trump administration.

An article in the Washington Times reads: Trump’s real opposition party: Federal civil servants.

One federal employee told The Washington Post he would resist Mr. Trump’s orders, depending how it “affected the world in general,” adding that Mr. Trump, “ain’t the boss of me.” Actually, he is “the boss of me” if you are a federal employee.

The Post also reported:

Federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives.  Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.

It is easy for those who are not federal employees to be “patriots” and leak information to the media. It is also easy for ideologues to conclude they know what the government should be doing (or should not be doing).

A Dangerous Game

Leaking information is a dangerous game. If federal employees did leak information from U.S. intelligence agency reports, it is a serious matter. Any federal employee who engaged in this activity or is thinking of engaging in this activity may want to consult with an attorney. Whistleblower protections may not be sufficient. Moreover, self-classification as a whistleblower is relatively meaningless and the protections may not apply anyway.

Author Michael Wald noted recently: “If career federal employees want to dismantle the present merit system, there is no better way to achieve this goal than by repudiating its principles and acting in such a political manner.”

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47