The risk of normalization is particularly acute when it comes to selectively disclosing details of conversations monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies, such as the leaks that forced Flynn to resign last month. Such leaks violate the public’s trust in government eavesdroppers to not abuse their power to advance a political agenda.
This is why there are strict laws prohibiting the public disclosure of wiretap information. It’s why the intelligence community is supposed to take great pains not to distribute the names of American citizens who are caught up in surveillance of foreign targets widely within the government. It’s why the House Intelligence Committee is now investigating how many times the identities of U.S. citizens were unmasked in intelligence reports in the last six months of the Obama administration.
Tim Edgar, who served in Obama’s first term as the director of privacy and civil liberties at the White House, told me that it’s a mistake to conflate leaks of government-monitored communications with leaks designed to expose government wrongdoing or corruption. “J. Edgar Hoover was a prolific leaker, the Nixon White House leaked information, including information about its opponents from surveillance,” he said. “You may care somewhat if the government has intercepted your call, but you care more if they are using that information against you in some way.”
Edgar, who is now a professor in law and public policy at Brown University, is worried that the anti-Trump forces are not seeing the danger. “My message to the resistance is that you have to be careful,” he said. “These laws exist to protect all of us and our constitutional rights, and there is a difference between leaking the contents of surveillance transcripts and whistle blowing involving questionable government policy.”
In this sense, the resistance is fashioning a rod for its back. Democrats rightly howled when it was leaked that the FBI had wanted to investigate the Clinton Foundation but was stymied by the Justice Department in the run-up to the election. Trump will now have access to all kinds of damaging information on Democratic politicians. What is to stop him from selectively leaking monitored communications against the resistance?
Ideally, the rest of Washington would stop him. We don’t do that kind of thing in America. This is what police states do. But these norms are only effective if they are observed with consistency.
Deep-sixing norms is what lefties do.