DOJ Officials Express An Interest In Prosecuting Leakers And Whistleblowers

from the taking-a-stand-against-accountability dept

We’ve already discussed a memo read by some FBI officials that supposedly was a record of an Oval Office conversation between former FBI Director James Comey and Donald Trump apparently contains the president asking after the possible prosecution of journalists for publishing leaks. Hearsay squared, but still in line with Trump’s antagonistic relationship with free speech.

There’s not much popular support for treating journalists like criminals just for doing their job, but there appears to be plenty of administrative support for the idea. Comey claimed he wouldn’t go after journalists for publishing leaks — something he said with one side of his mouth while redefining journalism to exclude Julian Assange and Wikileaks, which the DOJ is apparently considering pursuing charges against.

But that’s not the extent of the new administration’s Bullets For Messengers™ program. As Betsy Woodruff reports for The Daily Beast, the DOJ is looking to crack down on leaks, leakers, and — given its inability/unwillingness to subject itself to accountability — whistleblowers.

Under intense pressure from the White House, the Justice Department is prepared to aggressively prosecute government officials who leak classified information. Justice Department officials told The Daily Beast that targeting leakers will be a priority during Jeff Sessions’ time as attorney general—a posture that will hearten national security hawks, while concerning advocates of whistleblower protections.

“As the Attorney General has said, the Department of Justice takes unlawful leaks very seriously and those that engage in such activity should be held accountable,” an official told The Daily Beast.

Officials may not directly state they’re going after whistleblowers, but the FBI and DOJ have never shied away from direct retaliation against those bringing complaints up through the proper channels. The Obama DOJ was particularly unfriendly to whistleblowers, which means many in the DOJ are already well-trained in the art of hunting down leakers.

This new DOJ also makes it clear it will only tolerate leaking it approves of.

“The fact that the president shared classified information with a foreign government official, in and of itself, is classified,” a former senior intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “So whoever was trying to burn him for thinking he’s doing something wrong actually is the only one that committed a crime here.”

The president possibly exposing an undercover ISIS source to Russian officials? Not a big deal. Someone talking to the press about it? Round up a grand jury! New DOJ boss Jeff Sessions is tough on crime — all of it. He’s just as unhappy as Trump that US press outlets continue to be fed inside info directly contradicting White House statements, stances, and tweets, often within minutes of the president or his press secretary opening their mouths.

“I expect we’ll get to the bottom of this,” Sessions replied. “This is not right. We’ve never seen this kind of leaking. It’s almost as if people think they have a right to violate the law, and this has got to end, and probably it will take some convictions to put an end to it.”

If there are internal memos related to the DOJ’s full court press on leaking, expect it to be leaked. As tough as the DOJ may want to be on leakers and whistleblowers, a president who’s failed to earn the respect and trust of so many of the people he supposedly leads only encourages the sort of behavior we’re witnessing. No doubt the president and the DOJ would like to get some heads on pikes ASAP to staunch the bleeding, but there’s no way this can be done without doing tremendous harm to legitimate whistleblowers and the very important individuals who could only be heard by operating outside a deliberately broken system.

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Comments on “DOJ Officials Express An Interest In Prosecuting Leakers And Whistleblowers”

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121 Comments
Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Legal Route

Whistleblowing is the act of alerting people to criminal wrongdoing or unethical behavior through non-standard channels.

Most of the recent major whistleblowers, including Snowden himself, took the non-official-channels route because they saw what happens when you try to go through official channels that are part of the conspiracy to commit the crime you want to report.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Legal Route

The proper way to do whistleblowing is to inform the people who have authority over the people who are committing and/or authorizing the wrongdoing, without letting those latter people know you’re doing it.

If you can do that by going through channels, then going through channels is the right thing to do.

Otherwise, any method that gets the message through is potentially acceptable.

In this case, the person who appears to be committing and/or authorizing the wrongdoing is the President of the United States of America, to whom everyone else in the executive branch of the government answers; the only people who have authority over him are the American people themselves, i.e., the public.

As such, the only way to blow the whistle on wrondoing in the White House is to report it to the public – and the most effective way to do that is to go through the news media.

(There’s an argument to be made about reporting it to Congress instead, but given how many people in Congress support the President, that would arguably be tantamount to reporting it to some of the people who are authorizing or approving of the wrongdoing.)

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We will never ‘catch’ a member of the Five Eyes community doing illegal things in their own country, as it is just as easy to get another member to do it for them. Each washes another’s back, so to speak. And if one country is in fact guilty of doing illegal things, they will just claim they got the info from a ‘partner’, and with current and future levels of secrecy, how could we know?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

if one country is in fact guilty of doing illegal things, they will just claim they got the info from a ‘partner’, and with current and future levels of secrecy, how could we know?

Which is why the populous should say: "We don’t care where it came from, you used it, we don’t like it. Jail for you."

bob says:

Re: what kind of leak are you leaking though.

I see a difference though between that leak and the others, so far. Leaks exposing potentially unlawful behavior of government officials is good and healthy for a democracy to succeed. I can’t see a purpose to leak intel of the bombing other than to just leak and potentially get a news story out first. The leaking of intel from the bombing should be stopped.

Woadan (profile) says:

“I expect we’ll get to the bottom of this,” Sessions replied. “This is not right. We’ve never seen this kind of leaking. It’s almost as if people think they have a right to violate the law, and this has got to end, and probably it will take some convictions to put an end to it.”

It took “some convictions” to share the information Jeffy. Hopefully, in the end, the convictions might be yours, Trumps, and the whole rotten lot of you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, I didn’t, and Obama made the angry tangerine even more dangerous by handing him massively expanded surveillance capabilities and executive power.

I think both sides are bad for society, and so blinded by team loyalty and hero worship that all of you are incapable of seeing fault in your candidates.

Nobody won anything. As long as democrats and republicans get to play ping pong with the country, nobody ever will.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s great that people are finally waking up and calling this shit out, but sad that the same was ignored for 8 years just because the president was a democrat. Can we stop trying to gloss over history on Obama’s behalf?

Um. Who are you claiming ignored this issue during the Obama Presidency? Because it better not be us.

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20141014/17395328832/obama-administration-has-put-media-leakers-jail-nearly-50-times-as-long-as-all-other-administrations-history.shtml

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130620/18182823551/obama-administration-has-declared-war-leakers-claims-any-leak-is-aiding-enemy.shtml

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130807/01005424091/victim-obamas-crackdown-whistleblowers-says-calling-leakers-spies-is-modern-day-mccarthyism.shtml

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130802/14032124047/its-dangerous-free-speech-when-we-confuse-leakers-with-spies.shtml

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130722/01430523882/architect-obamas-war-whistleblowers-its-good-to-hang-admiral-once-while-as-example.shtml

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110702/00451614941/latest-attempt-obama-administration-to-punish-whistleblowers.shtml

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20141213/07013429424/irony-alert-doj-leaked-to-press-decision-not-to-force-reporter-james-risen-to-reveal-who-leaked-info-to-him.shtml

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20161022/06200835855/despite-administrations-promises-most-government-transparency-still-work-whistleblowers-leakers.shtml

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140812/17175128196/whistleblowers-should-be-allowed-public-accountability-defense.shtml

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130514/17194923087/what-national-security-risk-evidence-suggests-embarassment-drove-doj-spying-ap-phone-records.shtml

And that’s just the results on the first page of a quick search I did. There’s a lot more where that came from. So don’t go playing fucking partisan pattycake and pretending we didn’t make the same claims about the previous administration. We’re not that kind of site.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Adding to that..

Techdirt was one of few outlets that did report on this stuff. However, if you tried pointing it out pretty much anywhere else, you’d immediately be facing a Trump-supporter style attack and downvote brigade from “democrats”. That’s what I was referring to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Wow! Two of you!

Thanks so much for again pointing out what we all read in the article! We certainly wouldn’t have read it if you hadn’t mentioned it.

I’d say the more important issue is that Trump isn’t reversing one of Obama’s policies. I wonder how it feels for him to be advancing one of Obama’s directives…

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

But there is only one Thad!

Er, yes, that’s kind of the point of posting under a name instead of anonymously.

Do you…do you not understand how names work?

Anything to say today Thad, other than your perception of your idiot self in others?

Nope, "my perception of my idiot self in others" is the only thing I intend to say today. How did you know?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If it is leaked to the press it is free speech issue.

All governments have committed crimes against humanity under the guise of “its classified”.

The entire premise of the first is to allow people to talk about government AND/OR show to the world the governments bullshit and lies by providing that evidence to the press, without the specter or threat of criminal punishment.

No government can exist “For the People, By the People” if it gets to keep secrets and parade people through a kangaroo court when they feel “wronged”.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re:

THANK YOU!

The media is trying to equate Whistleblowing, the act of going outside proper channels to report a CRIME, with Leaking of Classified Materials, which is treason.

The current crop seems to think that it’s OK to leak anything they don’t agree with.

I’ve held clearances. The contract you have to sign to get a clearance, and every item you’re read in on specifically states that you will be charged with Treason (capital T) if you violate the terms – which includes “leaking” to the press or anyone else.

We haven’t been prosecuting these “senior officials” the media is constantly “quoting”, which is causing the problem to grow by leaps and bounds.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Classification of illegal activity does not make reporting of same illegal.”

Yeah, it kind of does, depending on who it is reported to.

If you follow the chain of command and report it up as a whistle-blower, it’s not illegal. If you get punished for doing so, it’s probably illegal for that to happen however. Realistically, that’s what always happens, which is a huge problem with bureaucracies. Start punishing the people who punish whistle blowers to end that shit.

Having said all that, if a government employee discloses classified information to the Press, or allows it to be disclosed by not practicing appropriate stewardship of it, then that’s illegal.

The Press reporting it after they receive the information is not illegal.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

with Leaking of Classified Materials, which is treason

We may all be getting dumber just from being exposed to folks crying that leaking classified reports of government misdeeds is “treason”. Treason is defined as (1) levying war against the country or (2) adhering, giving aid and comfort to the enemies.

Exposing official crimes may make officials uncomfortable, but it does not appear to rise to the level of waging war.

We may also be made a bit dumber by exposure to whoever came up with this silly “markdown” idea as some sort of unreliable replacement for HTML. Get used to it, being competent in the language of the web is so old-fashioned and stupid is the new orange spray-tan.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

We may also be made a bit dumber by exposure to whoever came up with this silly “markdown” idea

Hey, man, that’s no way to speak of the dead.

Get used to it, being competent in the language of the web is so old-fashioned

Swartz had a point: HTML is needlessly verbose. It takes a hell of a lot less time to type ">" than "<blockquote></blockquote>", and Markdown has the advantage of leveraging plain-text formatting conventions that were already common in e-mail well before the Web took off.

That’s nothing against HTML (which has been my hobby for some 20 years and my livelihood for the past 4). But for simple comments-section formatting (paragraphs, bold/italic text, quotes) the full HTML tag set isn’t exactly necessary.

and stupid is the new orange spray-tan.

Huh?

Anonymous Coward says:

Amazing number of folks here supporting selective enforcement of the law. Apparently we’ve given up on being a rule of law society and now it’s the ends justify the means. People hate Trump so much they will forget and/or ignore the law as long as it’s against him.

Leaking classified information is illegal. Trump, like past Presidents, gets to decide what gets declassified because he’s the commander in chief. It’s his job, like it or not.

Leaking classified information for the purpose of embarrassing or sabotaging an administration is equally as illegal as doing it for personal gain or as a treasonable act. The First Amendment does NOT give anyone the right to do so. Just like you can’t yell “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater, a government official can’t break the law and reveal classified information or allow it to be stored insecurely.

Unless you are Hilliary Clinton, of course. Then it’s ok to send it to a pedophile’s laptop for safe keeping.

It’s ridiculous – the law applies to everyone equally regardless of political affiliation, race, social status, or wealth. Well, it SHOULD – but in today’s world the main opinion seems to be “why should I follow the law if others don’t have to? I just need to focus on what’s best for me and work towards not getting caught, right?”

Any time you cheer on a law breaker, try to remember that we all rely on the law every second of every day to keep this society functioning.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Amazing number of folks here supporting selective enforcement of the law. Apparently we’ve given up on being a rule of law society and now it’s the ends justify the means. People hate Trump so much they will forget and/or ignore the law as long as it’s against him.

Um, as noted in the comment above, we made the same complaints about Obama. This has nothing to do with whether we support the President or not. This has to do with the fundamental problem of going after whistleblowers.

The First Amendment does NOT give anyone the right to do so. Just like you can’t yell "FIRE" in a crowded movie theater, a government official can’t break the law and reveal classified information or allow it to be stored insecurely.

Oh. You’re one of those poor saps who thinks you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. I have some unfortunate news for you:

https://www.popehat.com/2012/09/19/three-generations-of-a-hackneyed-apologia-for-censorship-are-enough/

Any time you cheer on a law breaker, try to remember that we all rely on the law every second of every day to keep this society functioning.

So, were you for or against Wikileaks sharing the DNC and Podesta emails?

AC says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Oh. You’re one of those poor saps who thinks you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. I have some unfortunate news for you:”

Nothing at all in that article about a government employee disclosing classified information. Yelling fire in an crowded theater isn’t protected by the first Amendment and neither is committing a crime by releasing classified information. You are the poor sap who seems to conflate having an opinion and being persecuted/prosecuted for it by the government(not happening in this case) and being a government employee and breaking the law by leaking classified information (which is).

“So, were you for or against Wikileaks sharing the DNC and Podesta emails?”

Kind of off topic (again, we’re not talking about the press publishing leaked information – that IS covered by the First Amendment) but I’d have to say that I don’t disapprove of publishing awful nasty crap being done behind the scenes by EITHER political party. I still think it’s illegal for a government employee to leak, and it’s certainly illegal for anyone to hack in and steal information. Snowden did the citizens of the US a favor too – but he’s still guilty. Should he be punished? Different topic. That’s what pardons are for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Leaking classified information is illegal.

Let’s run with that for a second…and let’s assume it’s some rogue White House staffers.

Aren’t those the people he hired?
What does that say about his judgement?

I find it comical that if it is someone close to the president, no one’s getting pissed about the "extreme vetting" that obviously didn’t happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“remember that we all rely on the law every second of every day to keep this society functioning.”

Complete bullshit right here. Laws are put in place to maintain the existing class structure and to ensure that no lower classes are allowed to improve their living conditions.

It is your responsibility to report violations of said law – do you disagree? Claiming you were “only following orders” does not cut the mustard. A good person would not sit idly by while some assholes run amok with their attempts to create a tin pot dictatorship.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Complete bullshit right here. Laws are put in place to maintain the existing class structure and to ensure that no lower classes are allowed to improve their living conditions.”

Really? Which laws would those be? Traffic laws? I can see how jaywalking being illegal is designed to keep the people down and out of the middle of the road, but other than that… wait! That one law that says you can’t take other people’s shit! Yeah, that’s the one that’s getting in the way, right?

Spoken like a true socialist tho. Head down to Venezuela and let me know that works out for you – they’re having a great time there!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No, he called you a socialist because you “Laws are put in place to maintain the existing class structure …”. You are a socialist. Class structure is an invention of socialism. In American, we have a free society, and laws to protect that free society. Break them at your peril. That’s the point, dunce.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Boys, boys, boys! Stop it.

Socialists are indeed concerned with class and social inequalities per Dan Kervick and Noam Chomsky, two noted American Socialists.

That said, “Socialist” is indeed the go-to term for people who don’t accept right-wing talking points without question.

Maybe we should leave class out of the discussion and start again. Or risk the word “socialist” being bandied about because the dog whistle “class” has been blown again. Sorry, AC @ 6:52am; you did rather give the game away, my friend.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Class structure is an invention of socialism.

I’m…pretty sure that if you spent five minutes studying history, you could find several examples of class systems that predated socialism.

Here’s some reading to get you started:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristocracy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarchy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feudalism

If Wikipedia is too much of a biased socialist Illuminati puppet site for your tastes, there are probably similar entries on Conservapedia.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Nothing is wrong when the president does it'

“The fact that the president shared classified information with a foreign government official, in and of itself, is classified,” a former senior intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “So whoever was trying to burn him for thinking he’s doing something wrong actually is the only one that committed a crime here.”

So the president giving classified information to foreign governments in order to stroke his own ego is not only acceptable for this individual the fact that it happened is secret and illegal to share.

Why do I get the feeling that this individual likely thinks that Snowden and any other leaker of classified information(like say, that pest that exposed a torture program run by a government agency…) should have kept their mouths shut like good little cogs?

AC the Anonymous Coward says:

“If it is leaked to the press it is free speech issue.”

WRONG.

Enforcing the law and catching and prosecuting the leaker has NOTHING to do with Free Speech. Now, if they started going after the press instead of the leaker (like Obama did) THEN it is a Free Speech issue.

Don’t confuse the issue by making up shit.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Why do I get the feeling that this individual likely thinks that Snowden and any other leaker of classified information(like say, that pest that exposed a torture program run by a government agency…) should have kept their mouths shut like good little cogs?”

Don’t be obtuse.

Breaking the law is still breaking the law, regardless of the motivation. That’s what trials are for, to determine guilt and assign punishment. If someone like Snowden is brave enough and willing to take the consequences of breaking the law to expose government misdeeds and wrong doing, he can choose to leak classified information and do so. If you want to criticize the law, that’s valid. If you want to focus on the fact that he should never have been forced to make such a decision due to the failure of the government to acknowledge and protect whistleblowers, that’s valid too. He did what he thought he had to do under the circumstances.

It is still illegal tho. If you ignore that fact then you are proposing that anyone is justified to do the same thing for whatever reason they can come up with. That’s anarchy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So doing a public service in informing the public about the crimes that their rule makers commit, should be punished by the rules that said rule makers created?????

I guess we have anarchy then. As that would effectively mean that with enough power, you’ll never be guilty of anything, as you can just change the law to pardon yourself.

Absolute adherence to the law, is not always the best course of action for any individual or society.

Anonymous Coward says:

The big deal is the leakers leaking classified shit to reporters/public.
Trump has the authority to disclose whatever the fuck he wants to whoever he wants, as part of his foreign policy.

The leakers are undermining a democratically elected president and his ability to do his job. I’m gonna go ahead and call that treason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Hmm. Depends on the crime. Some are pretty clear cut, some aren’t. Speeding or littering or leaking classified information on one side, murder/manslaughter/self defense on the other for example.

It’s usually pretty clear in how the law is written, or in the precidence in how it has been enforced if not. Or the Supreme Court gets to (eventually) decide if the lower courts don’t agree.

Of course, something being illegal and actually being charged for doing it is another topic altogether. Selective enforcement, to be precise.

AC the Anonymous Coward says:

“So doing a public service in informing the public about the crimes that their rule makers commit, should be punished by the rules that said rule makers created?????”

Yes.

What you are missing is the fact that the wrong doing exposed should ALSO be punished, according to the law. That’s uniform adherence to the law, not selective enforcement.

I guess we have anarchy then. As that would effectively mean that with enough power, you’ll never be guilty of anything, as you can just change the law to pardon yourself.

No. Unless you are in the Socialist Paradise of Venezuela nobody can arbitrarily change the law without Congress and the Executive branch being involved. Oh, and the Judiciary has a say in determining if what they pass meets constitutional muster.

A pardon is an executive branch mechanism for abrogating the punishment of an individual who has been found guilty and sentenced for a crime. Totally different topic – it only applies afterwards.

AC says:

“Well bless your little heart, lol. This doesn’t happen anymore, what are you going to do about it, citizen?”

Use my single, solitary vote to express my opinion about how I think the country should be run, and who should do it. Just like you can. If enough people are disgusted by how things are in Washington, they’ll vote for a change too.

Oh. Wait. We did that, didn’t we? Maybe there’s more to this whole Trump getting elected thing than meets the eye…

For better or worse, he’s DIFFERENT. Just like Obama was. Community Organizer -> President and Business Mogul -> President. Two VERY different choices, to be sure, but neither of them represented the “same old thing”. (Clinton or Bush)

Anonymous Coward says:

Full quote?

“I expect we’ll get to the bottom of this,” Sessions replied. “This is not right. We’ve never seen this kind of leaking. It’s almost as if people think they have a right to violate the law, and this has got to end, and probably it will take some convictions to put an end to it. We’re sick and tired of everyone finding out about all the shitty stuff we’re doing.”

I think the last sentence was missing from the quote in the article.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Full quote?

I think TechDirt is much better off defining itself as a comedy site. There are some funny things said here, some even worth remembering. If you just made it clear that this was a forum for buffoons to parade their ignorance in public for the amusement of others, you would probably end up in court less.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Full quote?

I’m still waiting to hear about who else adopted EMAIL besides his college when he was fourteen. Nobody else appears to have adopted the program, ergo Shiva is not the father of email as we know it, but of a program called EMAIL that never left the confines of his college.

RE: Hannity, the man is a conspiracy-mongering buffoon.

RE: the challenge, is anybody paying attention?

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