Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was on Meet the Press today and talked about two items that have controlled the media this past week: the alleged backchannel to Russia proposed by Jared Kushner and the leak of classified information about the Manchester bombing.
CHUCK TODD: You got it. Earlier this morning I spoke with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. And I began by asking him about the Jared Kushner news.
SEC. JOHN KELLY: I know Jared. He’s a great guy, decent guy. His number one, number one interest, really, is the nation so you know there’s a lot of different ways to communicate, backchannel, publicly with other countries. I don’t see any big issue here relative to Jared.
CHUCK TODD: Even with an adversary, somebody that was, at the time, our own intelligence community had collectively said “this is a country that had infiltrated our election.” Did this show good judgment?
SEC. JOHN KELLY: Well you know, it was before the government was in place during the transition period I think, from what I understand. And I think any time you can open lines of communication with anyone, whether they’re good friends or not so good friends, is a smart thing to do.
CHUCK TODD: Had you ever, in your lifetime of government service, both in the military and outside of it, had you ever used another government’s communications facility though? The idea of sort of going around American communications.
SEC. JOHN KELLY: Well no, but I didn’t have to. I mean in my previous life, we wouldn’t do that kind of thing but youknow politics being what they are– a better way to put it, not politics but the kind of interaction here in Washington, there’s a lot of ways to communicate with people.
It’s interesting that two general officers with extensive experience dealing with foreign powers, friendly and hostile, see no problem in Kushner’s stillborn idea of creating a backchannel to the Russians. Presumably this is not because they don’t know what they are talking about but rather because they have sold out several decades of honor and integrity. As I’ve said before, there is a rather bright line that separates legal from boneheaded stupidity. Kushner clearly crossed it with this proposal.
The next major subject was leaks.
CHUCK TODD: Did British Prime Minister Theresa May have a point when she complained to the United States about leaks?
SEC. JOHN KELLY: She did.
CHUCK TODD: She did. It did come from our side.
SEC. JOHN KELLY: I don’t know where the leak came from. But I will tell you this, as I always do in cases like this, I immediately called my counterpart in the UK. And after offering my condolences about the attack – and unbelievably the third time in 120 days I’ve done that; I’ve called the minister and offered my condolences. She immediately brought this topic up. And, if it came from the United States, it’s totally unacceptable. And I don’t know why people do these kind of things, but it’s borderline, if not over the line, of treason.
CHUCK TODD: Do you plan – you call – you believe it’s treason, to leak some of this stuff, you believe that’s treason?
SEC. JOHN KELLY: I do believe it is. I believe when you leak the kind of information that seems to be routinely leaked – high, high level of classification – you are telling the –
CHUCK TODD: And what was leaked on this Manchester bombing you believe maybe even meets the treason standard?
SEC. JOHN KELLY: I think it’s darn close to treason.
I found this to be encouraging and disappointing. First, I’m encouraged that Kelly is actually against leaks of classified information. This is a refreshing change from the current environment where leaks are considered okay so long as they damage Trump. And, to the extent that the Manchester leaks have changed that conversation, the leakers of the Manchester information have actually done the nation a service. Jeff Sessions has ordered an investigation of the leaks and I’m confident some of them, though not the Susan Rices and Ben Rhodes of the world, will be caught and punished.
It was disappointing to hear a guy like Kelly sling around the word “treason.” Under our Constitution, treason only happens in wartime. Leaking classified information is a lot of things, but it isn’t treasonous.