Leakage from the yard is catnip for those who love a juicy DC whodunit
WASHINGTON – Washington loves a thriller. And the latest comes with the amazing plot of a leak from the famously buttoned-up Supreme Court.
The publication last week of a draft notice that Roe v. Wade’s landmark 1973 ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion in the United States, was wrong from the start and should be reversed, sparked research around the world. Capital city.
Who could be behind such a flagrant breach of trust? Why did this person choose to release the draft? Why did this person choose a Politico reporter? Who will investigate the matter? Will there be consequences? What will the court’s final opinion say?
Washington, by nature, abhors a vacuum. So the two months before the court issues a final ruling will be filled with guesswork, guesswork, false starts — and maybe even the truth about who’s behind the leak.
It’s a plot in the tradition of Watergate’s “Deep Throat” — one of Washington’s best-kept secrets for more than three decades; from Iran-Contra, with fiery classified documents in secretary’s underwear; of “Primary Colors”, a roman à clef about a certain southern governor.
The Trump era provided almost an entire genre. Among them: an unidentified whistleblower’s complaint about Donald Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president and the writings of “Anonymous,” a senior administration official who only remained anonymous for about two years after writing an opinion piece and a book that later criticized the president.
The Supreme Court leak is “up there with the most significant disclosures of this century and the last century — possibly ever,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Private Project on Government Surveillance. “It certainly ranks with the Pentagon Papers and Wikileaks and Deep Throat.”
As leaks sprout daily in the gossip of Washington, the explosive revelation of a draft advisory that would overturn the 1973 decision creating a national abortion right has captivated the city.
The hunt for the High Court backer is ongoing. Chief Justice John Roberts ordered an investigation into what he called a “gross breach of trust”. Amateur sleuths eagerly trade theories on social media.
Is it still possible to keep this kind of secret in Washington?
“Of course not,” said Eric Dezenhall, a crisis communications expert who has watched decades of leaks unfold in the capital.
“Very few people who leak really keep it to themselves,” Dezenhall said. “There’s always a conversation going, ‘You have to swear not to tell anyone’ – and that’s the beginning of the end.”
He added that there is often a psychic – and financial – incentive to come forward as a figure in history.
“The endgame is a book deal, a movie deal, being on TV,” he said.
Even when leakers are wary of their actions, there’s the tricky issue of digital fingerprints, which make it much easier for leak hunters to track down modern news sources than in the past.
“The way some sources were able to maintain their anonymity was really impacted by the era of surveillance and technological tracking, so it’s possible that we know who it is,” said Brian, who laments a ” reflexive instinct” in government. to pursue leaks and suppress information.
The big secrets in Washington eventually come out, one way or another.
The identity of Deep Throat, the source who guided Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the Watergate investigation, only became known in 2005, when a 91-year-old former FBI official, W. Mark Felt, revealed he was the one who used to meet reporters in an underground parking lot at 2 a.m. to share advice on how to unravel wrongdoing by President Richard Nixon and his allies . A Post editor dubbed it “Deep Throat” after the 1972 porn movie of the same name.
The secret identities of many other truth tellers, leakers and whistleblowers from different walks of life were short-lived.
‘Anonymous’ – whose 2018 New York Times opinion piece and later Trump-bashing book left the president furious and searching for the backer – chose to come forward six days before the 2020 election , as Trump sought re-election.
When he emerged from the shadows, Miles Taylor, a former Homeland Security chief of staff, called Trump “a characterless man” and urged other former administration officials to ” regain their conscience” and to express themselves as well.
In 2019, it was a CIA officer’s whistleblower complaint about Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskyy that led to the president’s impeachment. The identity of the whistleblower has been kept confidential under federal laws that protect whistleblowers from retaliation. But conservatives have widely circulated speculation about the identity of the officer.
In January 1996, a fictionalized account of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign by an anonymous author sparked a hunt for the writer who seemed to know so much about the workings of the political operation.
Six months later, journalist Joe Klein confessed to being the author after the Post identified him through handwriting analysis of an annotated manuscript he had obtained. Klein said he kept his name on the book, his first novel, because he wasn’t sure it would be any good. He ended up with a movie contract.
Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked a secret study exposing America’s mistaken involvement in the Vietnam War, publicly identified himself as the source of the Pentagon Papers weeks after the Times and Post published articles that sparked a massive legal battle. on the free press. Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy and violating the Espionage Act, but his case ended in a mistrial when evidence surfaced of government-ordered wiretaps and burglaries.
The drama swirling around the Supreme Court leak is amplified by speculation about the motivation. Was it someone trying to avoid a final opinion knocking down Roe? Or someone trying to do the opposite – support the judges who originally voted to overthrow Roe but who might get cold feet?
According to readers’ politics, the lessor has been alternately labeled a cultural hero or villain. Some speculators, on reflection, changed their theory in the middle of the debate. The White House wants people to focus less on the funder and more on the potential implications of the draft advisory itself.
The idea that the leak was designed to ensure that the final opinion would follow the first draft “might be half too Machiavellian,” Dezenhall posits. “It was probably exactly who you think it is – someone who wanted to screw everything up.”