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Washington – The tempest over President Donald Trump’s congratulatory phone call to Vladimir Putin quickly grew on Wednesday into an uproar over White House leaks, sparking an internal investigation and speculation over who might be the next person Trump forces out of the West Wing.

The White House, which has suffered frequent leaks – at times of notable severity – said in a statement it would be a “fireable offense and likely illegal” to leak Trump’s briefing papers to the press, after word emerged that the president had been warned in briefing materials not to congratulate the Russian president on his re-election.

Trump did so anyway, and on Wednesday he defended the call, saying George W. Bush did not have the “smarts” to work with Putin, and that Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton “didn’t have the energy or chemistry” with the Russian leader.

Aides had included guidance in Trump’s talking points for the call to Putin stating: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” a senior administration official said Wednesday, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official had not been authorized to discuss internal matters.

The document had been accessible only to a select group of staffers, two officials said, and had been drafted by aides to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. They also said there now is an internal probe of the leak but provided no other details. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. The White House is not formally acknowledging the veracity of the presidential guidance first reported by The Washington Post.

Trump defended his decision to congratulate Putin in his Wednesday tweets, saying Obama did the same in 2012.

The White House statement earlier Wednesday about a possible firing was an unusual threat and an indication of the seriousness with which the administration is treating the latest breach. Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly are both angry over the disclosure, officials said, especially because of the small circle of distribution.

Trump has told confidants that be believes the leak was meant to embarrass and undermine him, said White House officials and outside advisers familiar with the president’s thinking.

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