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.

Filed Under: doj, free speech, journalism, leaks, prosecution, whistleblowing

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2017 @ 10:49pm

    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.

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