Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper in his new book said that "leaks were a chronic problem" in the Trump administration and former President Donald Trump was the "biggest leaker of all."
"The individual motivations for the leaks ranged from advancing a preferred policy outcome to enhancing the leaker's own role or credentials to currying favor with the president. It was a noxious behavior learned from the top. The president was the biggest leaker of all. It turned colleague against colleague, department against department, and it was generally bad for the administration and the country," Esper wrote in "A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times."
Esper said the leaks "damaged trust" and made people "far more reluctant to speak up and share their views."
"Nobody wanted to see their name in the morning news, especially when the words were so often twisted, misinterpreted, and taken out of context," he added. "In the Trump administration, this could get you blacklisted or fired."
Along these lines, Esper in his book defended his decision to launch an investigation into leaks in the Department of Defense in the summer of 2020, and did not address whether Trump or his top advisors may have been behind them; the president's powers to unilaterally declassify mean it is not a crime for him to disclose official secrets unlike any other US official.
The investigation was "accompanied by a sustained effort to remind our uniformed and civilian employees of their obligations to protect classified information and to educate them on why and how best to do so," Esper said.
"None of this was about muzzling whistleblowers or clamping down on the activities of a free media, as a few alleged. It was all about curtailing the unauthorized release of classified information that harmed our nation's security or put our troops at risk, while also weakening the trust and confidence our foreign partners had in us," Esper said.
A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider. Trump has disputed other claims made by Esper, calling his former Pentagon chief "a stiff who was desperate not to lose his job" and a "lightweight" in comments to "60 Minutes" that were published on Sunday.
"Mark Esper was weak and totally ineffective, and because of it, I had to run the military," Trump said.
Trump throughout his tenure frequently complained about leakers and excoriated reports citing unnamed sources.
"Leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!" Trump wrote in a May 2018 tweet. The former president was permanently banned from Twitter last year.
Esper is not the first to point to Trump as a leaker. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a memoir published last year wrote that Trump told him he leaked to Axios that he was offering Christie the White House chief of staff job in late 2018.
"I did it myself," Trump said when Christie asked him if he knew who leaked the story, according to the book. "It was a great story, right? It was good for you and good for me. It was good," Trump said. Christie ultimately did not accept the job, releasing a statement saying he'd withdrawn himself from consideration to avoid embarrassing Trump by publicly rejecting the offer.