The former National Security Adviser to Trump resigned after intelligence officials leaked reports of Mr. Flynn’s conversations with Russia, and less than forthcoming descriptions about them. In response, the Trump administration and the Republican Congress has emphasized the illegality of the leaks over the illegality of Mr. Flynn’s behavior. Mr. Trump recently tweeted: “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by “intelligence” like candy. Very un-American!” Congressional republicans likewise have sworn they would begin an investigation into the Department of Justice to probe where and when the leaks occurred – but what effect will this really have? Will it be a successful foray, or is it just a waste of taxpayers’ money? Or is it just an attempt to steer attention away from the focus on the White House’s relationship with Russia?
Indeed, this does appear to be a politically motivated attack against both the media and the intelligence community. One does not need to remember too far back to Mr. Trump’s gleeful chants to lock up Hillary Clinton after she was accused of mishandling classified information. He praised Wikileaks and encouraged more hacking by Russia. Only now that he and his administration seem to be the target of such leaks is Mr. Trump concerned about the legality of the source. And Jason Chaffetz, Congressional Republican, is leading the action against intelligence leakers, a foil to who he was last year, leading seven investigations into the Benghazi incident and Mrs. Clinton’s emails. It seems clear that partisan politics are at play, and Mr. Trump and his team are able to avoid direct targeting, with the backing of Congress – for now.
This is a somewhat troubling trend Congress is taking by targeting the whistleblowers of wrongdoing instead of actually investigating into the potential wrongdoing. Of course, the intelligence community’s credibility was tarnished upon the release of the “dirty dossier” from the M16 operative, released in full by Buzzfeed. This also made them a huge target for Mr. Trump, despite his earlier declaration that he was behind them “a thousand percent.” Now, it appears that the kid gloves are off, with Trump and other Congressional republicans emphasizing the criminality of leaking intelligence. Leaking signals intelligence to the public is a serious felony, and sometimes journalists can be prosecuted and convicted for publishing classified information under U.S.C. 18 § 798. Therefore, the attack on the media by Trump is even more compelling – journalists can be prosecuted for publishing information gleaned from their sources who have committed a crime by passing the information on to reporters. What stops the prosecution from the majority of this is the importance the public places on the role of the media and journalists, as well as public opinion about the need to know. The public has a right to know about corruption, treasonous behavior and conduct unbecoming of an elected office. If the public voices their opinion loudly and repetitively, it could dissuade Congressional leaders from going after the press and its sources. Given the extremely partisan and divided climate, it remains to be seen how successful the constituents will be in preventing a full-blown prosecution.
Of course, it must be noted that the CIA and FBI have huge powers and can control the release of information to empower or destroy any perceived political adversaries – despite the rules preventing this. Former FBI director Comey knew this when he released a letter about Mrs. Clinton’s ubiquitous emails just a few days before the election. Perhaps the CIA determined that their target would be Trump.