The questioning directors Admiral Mike Rogers of the NSA and James Comey of the FBI received from Democrats and then Republicans on Capitol Hill Monday could have been two separate hearings. For Republicans willing to toe the party line, this was an investigation into the leak of classified information. For Rep. Trey Gowdy, he hopes this hearing ends with someone in jail, as long as that “someone” is a reporter or leaker.
The South Carolina Republican began his round of questions by asking if reporters “would have access to information” that Comey himself wouldn’t. “It’s hard for me to answer,” Comey said, adding he’d hope they wouldn’t. Of course, reporting has led to investigations in the past (see no further back than the Anthony Weiner investigation) so it’s a dumb question, but was meant to set the stage for Gowdy’s larger point.
Gowdy also asked why a person would request anonymity from a reporter, making the leap that they do it to avoid criminal prosecution. He asked if there was an “exception in the law” for reporters who want to break a story by publishing classified information.
“Well, that’s a harder question [than whether there is an exception for U.S. officials], as to whether a reporter incurs criminal liability by publishing classified information, and one probably beyond my,” ability to answer, Comey said.
Gowdy pressed on, pointing out that the statute dealing with classified information “does use the word publish” in its language. Comey admitted that it does, but said that he and his predecessors have long “struggled with” because of the protection of the First Amendment and the spirit of the free press.
Comey went on to point out that he doesn’t believe “a reporter’s been prosecuted, certainly not in my lifetime.” Gowdy rebutted that the “Logan Act” has never been used to prosecute anyone, despite talk surrounding disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s call discussing sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak over the Christmas holiday.
He said that since the “motive” of the leakers and the reporters who published their stores was not help out the NSA or the FBI (because they presumably had the information already) the only other explanation is that they had nefarious aims. (The idea that people within the government didn’t trust their leadership and thus leaked it to the press for what they believe is the public good apparently never occurred to him.)
While he didn’t say it explicitly, the implication seemed to be that Gowdy wants to see the FBI chasing down leakers, even if that means charging reporters with a crime under the Espionage Act. As we’ve reported, President Obama was pretty terrible when it came to dealing with the press and leaks, but they never actually prosecuted any of them.
This is a remarkable position for Gowdy, the thin face of the Benghazi select committee that Salon reporter Simon Maloy said “leaked like a collander.” Gowdy himself released classified information in October of 2015 when he dumped emails turned over from the State Department and he didn’t redact a CIA agent’s name.
Long-suffering State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that mistake was “human error.”
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