Kim Jong-un’s New Year speech and President Trump’s tweet about Pakistan are just going to have to wait, because we’ve got leaks to cover. They’re juicy leaks for certain, but leaks that, as National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy pointed out Monday, undermine the credibility of both the leakers and the New York Times reporters who are giving them a platform.

Emails, an Aussie Diplomat, and a Wine Bar

The front page of Sunday’s Times featured the headline “Unlikely Source Propelled Russian Meddling Inquiry.” Citing “Interviews and previously undisclosed documents,” reporters Sharon LaFraniere, Mark Mazzetti, and Matt Apuzzo claim the FBI’s inquiry into suspected collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government began when George Papadopoulos, a 28-year-old “foreign policy adviser” to the Trump campaign met with an Australian diplomat at a London wine bar in May 2016.

The diplomat, Alexander Downer, is Australia’s High Commissioner (equivalent to ambassador) to the United Kingdom, the top-ranking Australian diplomat in London.  According to the Times, Papadopoulos bragged to Downer that Russia “had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton.” The news supposedly unsettled Downer to the point that, when hacked emails from John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee appeared on WikiLeaks, he reported the discussion through official channels to the U.S. intelligence community.

This leak is troubling, and revealing, for two reasons. The first is that, as McCarthy pointed out, it directly contradicts another Times article, by Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, and Adam Goldman, published in April, that said “current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials” claimed Carter Page’s July trip to Moscow was “a catalyst” for the investigation. The article stated, “From the Russia trip of the once-obscure Mr. Page grew a wide-ranging investigation, now accompanied by two congressional inquiries, that has cast a shadow over the early months of the Trump administration.” That’s a fairly conclusive statement.

Note that Mark Mazzetti gets byline credit in both stories, and that Adam Goldman, on the first byline, was a contributor to the most recent article.

How Leaks are used to manipulate

Investigations are conducted in secret , so you only get to see what the leakers decide they want you to see. And scandalous leaks don’t just sell newspapers, they drive the narrative.

Two scenarios are possible here: the first is that there are two sets of leakers, one for each story. This stretches the bounds of credulity, as the number of people with access to this information is limited. The second scenario, more likely and far more troubling, is that the same set of leakers are changing their story in an effort to keep the narrative moving and further undermine the president. Both statements of how the investigation began cannot be true. Either Page caused the investigation, or Papadopoulos did. One of these assertions (at least) is a lie.

Especially troubling is the outing of Australia. It’s inexcusable, and if you’ve been paying attention, it’s blatant. Since 9/11, Australia has been as solid a partner of the U.S., on par with Great Britain. Australia’s contributions may not have been large number, but they were operationally significant. Australian special operators in particular have played a key role in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Someone is trying to undermine the president by damaging our relationship with this key ally. They hope to turn Australia publicly against us to create election fodder for this November, and for 2020.

During the Obama administration, we were told that wanting Obama to fail meant wanting the U.S. to fail, which was unpatriotic. Now, people with access to sensitive classified information are not just rooting for Trump to fail, they’re actively working to damage the president by causing real damage to the country’s foreign relations.

This is the second shot at Australia. President Trump’s contentious telephone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is public knowledge only because in August, a leaker gave the press copies of the transcript of that call and one with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. That leak so angered Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he considered ordering polygraph examinations for the entire National Security Council staff.

And as we discussed last week, there are currently no fewer than 27 ongoing leak investigations, some of them involving polygraphs. One presumes that this latest leak will spur investigation number 28. This will be cold comfort to Mr. Downer, who must be hoping someone got the license plate number of the bus the leakers have thrown him under.

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Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin