Former White House press secretary Jay Carney on damage of government leaks

Jay Carney with Yale students on April 9, 2018.

The difference in management styles between the Obama and Trump administrations impact the leaking of government secrets, former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a Poynter lecture at William L. Harkness Hall on April 9.

Carney, who served as press secretary under President Obama from 2011 to 2014, said there is “a lot of difference” between the former and current administrations, as is always the case in White House transitions, especially in a change of political party. However, the communications approach under Trump is unprecedented, according to Carney.

This administration is distinct in the way it engages with the media and distributes information,” Carney said.

What is not new, he said, is the risk for leaks that confronts any presidential administration.

The press always wanted more than we could tell them,” Carney said. “It was a frustration that we were running a tight ship ….”

The leaking of classified information has plagued the Trump administration. Last summer the Justice Department said it was pursuing three times as many leak investigations as were open at the end of the Obama era. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a broad crackdown on the “staggering number” of leaks, which undermine “the ability of our government to protect this country.”

Carney reiterated Sessions’ concern saying the Wikileaks website “did a lot of damage to our national security.”

Carney criticized Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee and the most prominent leaker during the Obama years. Snowden leaked classified information in 2013 about surveillance programs at the National Security Agency. 

Snowden, I think he’s a horrible human being. Though the debates his leaks sparked were important debates to have,” said Carney.

Carney said he doesn’t respect Snowden because the American leaker fled to Russia without confronting the legal consequences of his actions in the United States.

Carney spent the first half of his career as a journalist covering the White House, where he “depended on leaks” for stories. He moved to the public sector in 2011 when then-President Barack Obama asked him to be his second press secretary. Carney called the position “a whole lot of fun even when it wasn’t.”

Carney, now back in the private sector as an executive at Amazon, said he is still in touch with his former boss, Mr. Obama.

A 1987 graduate of Yale College, Carney said his experience at Yale has helped in both his current and former jobs.

I learned how to write during my time at Yale. I learned Russian. I was a student journalist,” said Carney. “I developed my communication skills here.”

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