The Slatest

White House Sharply Restricts Number of Officials on Trump’s Calls With Foreign Leaders

President Donald Trump speaks on the telephone via speakerphone with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in the Oval Office of the White House on August 27, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump speaks on the telephone via speakerphone with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in the Oval Office of the White House on August 27, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

The White House has been tightening the circle and is allowing even fewer officials than before to listen in on President Donald Trump’s calls with foreign leaders, reports CNN. “Nobody is allowed on the calls,” a White House official said of the measure that has been implemented since Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president became the centerpiece of the ongoing impeachment inquiry. “The barn door officially closed after the horse escaped.” Transcripts of the calls are also being shared with a far smaller number of officials than before.

So who has been kicked out of the circle? It seems pretty much anyone whose loyalty to Trump cannot be assured. That means those who are with Trump on the call are largely officials who were appointed by him while career staffers and other experts from across the government are largely being kept in the dark. Although the goal is clearly to limit the number of leaks it also means there is now “a smaller circle of loyalists in all policymaking discussions,” the CNN source said.

The effort to limit the number of officials on the calls is being referred to as “the Vindman Rule” in reference to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s Ukraine director. Vindman listened to the July call with the Ukrainian leader and ended up reporting to National Security Council lawyers. “Vindman wouldn’t hear the call if it happened tomorrow,” an official told CNN.

If the story sounds familiar it’s likely because the issue has been talked about before. After transcripts of Trump’s calls with the leaders of Australia and Mexico leaked, then-National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster made an effort to cut back on the number of people who could listen in on the communications with foreign leaders. But when John Bolton took over the role he lifted many of those restrictions.