Tuesday 23 July, 2019

UK hunts mole behind leak of envoy's frank Trump missives

President Donald Trump with first lady Melania Trump gestures upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Donald Trump with first lady Melania Trump gestures upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The British government was hunting Monday for the source of a leak of diplomatic cables from Britain's ambassador in Washington that branded President Donald Trump's administration "dysfunctional" and "inept."

British officials are embarrassed by the publication of Kim Darroch's unflattering assessment — but more alarmed that sensitive confidential information has been leaked, possibly for political ends.

Officials believe the mole will be found among British politicians or officials, rather than overseas.

"I've seen nothing to suggest hostile state actors were involved," said Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman, James Slack.

Slack said May had "full faith" in Darroch, a long-serving diplomat, although she didn't agree with his characterization of the Trump administration.

He said ambassadors were hired to provide "honest, unvarnished assessments" of politics in the countries where they served, which didn't necessarily reflect the views of the British government.

In the leaked cables — published in the Mail on Sunday newspaper — Darroch called the Trump administration's policy toward Iran "incoherent, chaotic" and said there were doubts about whether the White House "will ever look competent."

"We don't really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept," one missive said.

The cables cover a period from 2017 to recent weeks.

After the cables were published, Trump said the ambassador "has not served the U.K. well, I can tell you that."

"We are not big fans of that man," Trump said.

The leak is an embarrassment for outgoing prime minister May, who has sometimes clashed with Trump, and could make things difficult for Darroch, who is accused by some Brexit-backing U.K. politicians of a lack of enthusiasm for Britain's departure from the European Union.

The journalist who reported the leak, Isabel Oakeshott, is a strong supporter of Brexit.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Monday that the ability to communicate frankly was "fundamental" to diplomacy.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who is meeting U.S. officials in Washington, called the leak "malicious."

"I think it is unconscionable that any professional person in either politics of the civil service can behave in this way," he said.

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