Text messages made public embarrass President Yoon Suk-yeol, PPP

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Text messages made public embarrass President Yoon Suk-yeol, PPP

Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, acting chair and floor leader of the People Power Party, responds to a text message from President Yoon Suk-yeol over Telegram during a National Assembly session in Yeouido, western Seoul, Tuesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, acting chair and floor leader of the People Power Party, responds to a text message from President Yoon Suk-yeol over Telegram during a National Assembly session in Yeouido, western Seoul, Tuesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

 
Leaked text messages between President Yoon Suk-yeol and Kweon Seong-dong, acting chairman of the People Power Party (PPP), appeared to take a jab at suspended PPP chief Lee Jun-seok.  
 
On Tuesday, Kweon was caught checking on his foldable smartphone messages from Yoon on the Telegram instant messaging app during a National Assembly hearing session. Photos of the exchange on the phone were taken by pool reporters. 
 
In Telegram, a sender named "President Yoon Suk-yeol" wrote, "Our party is doing a good job. Keep it up."  
 
He continued, "Our party has become different since the replacement of the chairman who shot us in the foot."  
 
Yoon seemed to be taking a swipe at Lee, the 37-year-old PPP chief who was suspended from his job for six months earlier this month over sexual bribery allegations.  
 
"We will uphold your wishes and show unity between the party and the government," Kweon replied. This was followed by a thumbs-up emoji.  
 
Kweon, the PPP's floor leader and a Yoon ally, has served as acting chairman since the party's ethics committee suspended Lee on July 8 over allegations he accepted sexual services as a bribe from a businessman in 2013 and tried to cover it up.
 
It is rare for a president's personal text messages to be revealed to the public in such a fashion.    
 
The leaked messages appeared to provide rare insight into Yoon's true sentiments toward Lee, who has clashed with the president's allies but also hasbeen credited for leading the PPP to victory in Yoon's own presidential victory on March 9 and June 1 local elections.  
 
Yoon has maintained that he will "not intervene in party affairs," and rival Democratic Party (DP) lawmakers immediately expressed concerns that the president appears to be doing the opposite.  
 
After the leaked messages, Kweon took to Facebook Tuesday night to apologize, saying he would take full responsibility.  
 
"It is entirely my fault that due to my carelessness the contents of my private conversations with the president were exposed and brought about misunderstanding," he wrote.
 
Kweon said the messages from Yoon were meant "to convey his gratitude" for him assuming the role of acting chairman.  
 
Kweon Seong-dong, acting chief of the People Power Party, bows in apology over his leaked private text messages with the president at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

Kweon Seong-dong, acting chief of the People Power Party, bows in apology over his leaked private text messages with the president at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

On Wednesday morning, Kweon bowed his head and offered another apology to the public.  
 
Kweon said to reporters, "I am sorry for the fact that private text messages were leaked and disclosed due to my carelessness and caused concern to the public."
 
"As the private texts were revealed against my will, I will not answer questions about their contents," said Kweon. "My privacy also needs be protected."
 
Yoon's presidential office expressed "regret" over the leaking of the private text messages.  
 
Choi Young-bum, senior presidential secretary for public relations, said in a press briefing Wednesday, "It is very undesirable and regrettable that the contents of private conversations, whatever the circumstances, were exposed and caused a misunderstanding for the public."
 
He continued, "To my knowledge, the president does not give instructions for every little thing," reiterating the position that Yoon believes that party affairs should be handled by the party and its leadership.  
 
Choi added that he accompanied the president on several meetings with Lee but "never heard anything negative" about the PPP chief, adding, "I do not think it is desirable to overthink the coincidentally exposed text messages or attribute excessive political meaning to them."
 
He noted that Yoon may have sent the texts to Kweon "to encourage and commend him" for his hard work amid recent difficulties faced by the party.  
 
However, Rep. Woo Sang-ho, interim leader of the DP, called Yoon and Kweon's text exchange "shocking" in a party meeting Wednesday.  
 
"It is undesirable for the president to deeply intervene in the PPP's power struggle," said Woo.  
 
"I felt the cruelty of politics," he continued, "when I saw the hypocrisy of the president and his allies who relied on Lee to attract young votes, but have now cut off the young chairman."  
 
During the presidential campaign, Yoon and Lee had a rocky relationship. At one point, Lee boycotted official events after he clashed with Yoon's aides on election campaign appointments and policy direction.  
 
But Yoon and Lee had a very public reconciliation dinner in Ulsan on Dec. 3 and even campaigned together in matching outfits, seeming to put aside differences. Presidential candidate Yoon again reached out to Lee in early January, amid a push by PPP lawmakers to oust the young party chairman.
 
There continued to be signs of internal discord in the PPP with elections out of the way, and Lee even blamed party members close to Yoon of trying to push him out over the sexual bribery allegations.  
 
Lee has been low profile since his suspension and occasionally posts on Facebook about his travels across the country.  
 
He left a cryptic post from Ulleung Island in the East Sea Wednesday, writing, "On that island, when the cameras roll in, they come to shake hands smiling with crescent moon eyes, and when the cameras disappear, they shout with eyes wide open."
 
The island that Lee appeared to be referring to was Yeouido in western Seoul, where the National Assembly is located, possibly hinting at the double-faced nature of politicians.  
 
He added, "It's good that everything on this island [Ulleung Island] is honest as it appears."
 

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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