White House Press Secretary targets staff

Washington, Feb 27 (IANS) US Press Secretary Sean Spicer has launched a crackdown on leaks to the media, with increased security measures that include random phone checks of the White House staff.

The crackdown comes after a week in which President Donald Trump strongly criticized the media for using unnamed sources in stories and expressed growing frustration with the unauthorised sharing of information by individuals in his administration, the Politico daily reported on Sunday.

Last week, after Spicer became aware that information had leaked out of a planning meeting with his communications staffers, he reconvened the group in his office to express his frustration.

Upon entering Spicer’s office, the staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a “phone check” to prove they had nothing to hide.

There, he explicitly warned staffers that using texting apps like Confide – an encrypted and screenshot-protected messaging app that automatically deletes texts after they are sent – and Signal, another encrypted messaging system, was a violation of the Presidential Records Act, the report said.

Within the communications office, the mood has grown tense, the daily said.

Spicer has harshly criticised some of the work Deputy Communications Director Jessica Ditto had done, causing her to cry, according to two people familiar with the incident.

“The only time Jessica recalls almost getting emotional is when we had to relay the information on the death of Chief Ryan Owens,” Spicer said, referring to the navy serviceman killed in Yemen.

On Friday, Trump called the media the “enemy of the American people” during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in which he railed against journalists for using anonymous sources.

Later on Friday, Spicer blocked certain media, including CNN, The New York Times, BuzzFeed and Politico, from attending an off-camera press briefing in his office.

On Saturday, Trump said he would not attend the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington.