It seems quite appropriate that our scientifically challenged president — who believes windmills cause cancer and reportedly believes a nuke could stop a hurricane — is in favor of a scientifically challenged solution to solve a political problem. According to a report from Politico, Trump has become obsessed with the junk science of polygraphs to help plug up the historic leak problem in his administration. Following major disclosures, the president has consistently brought up lie-detector tests as a way to determine which staffers have disclosed information to reporters.
“He wanted to polygraph every employee in the building to unearth who it was who spoke to the press,” one former official told Politico. To appease the president, White House staffers have offered to take polygraphs to prove they weren’t the source of the leak. Of course, even if they did sit for a lie-detector test, it wouldn’t necessarily prove much: The procedure, which determines autonomic changes in heart rate, respiration, and skin conductivity, is notoriously unreliable.
Since the late 1990s, psychologists have determined that it may be impossible for the test to produce an accurate result, due to the variability of human response under stress. As the American Psychological Association notes, “An honest person may be nervous when answering truthfully and a dishonest person may be non-anxious.” Because of their iffy results, 27 states do not allow the tests to be admissible at trial. (Still, they are relied upon in the intelligence community. “Polygraphs are “part of ‘Leak Investigation 101’ and should absolutely be used when necessary to protect against the unlawful release of national security information,” a former NSC official told Politico.)
Though the president wouldn’t let something like the accuracy of a test — or a major invasion of his staffers’ privacy — get in his way, the usual roadblock for Trump’s bad ideas won out, as administration members just ignored his requests. The polygraphs were “something that was discussed and people were trying to placate the president and trying to show that they were taking it as personally and just as seriously as he was,” a former White House official told Politico. “Taking that line of, ‘Oh yeah, we have to polygraph people’ was a way to ingratiate themselves with him, but it wasn’t an idea that ever went anywhere because it was absurd.”
Politico also reports that Trump “has been upset about how certain call transcripts, draft executive orders and other palace intrigue stories have made their way to the media.” It’s a presidential anxiety that may have added to the impeachment crisis: To hide such embarrassing call transcripts, Trump has been dumping them in a top-secret server designed for classified national security information, a detail that the Ukraine whistle-blower revealed in September.