President Trump has vowed to hunt down whoever is leaking classified information about him and his team, and if he succeeds in unmasking the sources of illegal disclosures, they could face hard time.
Trump himself has been plagued by leaks about his meeting schedule and phone calls to heads of state. But the most damaging leaks to his month-old administration have been those that cost retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn his post as national security adviser. Flynn had to resign after information came out about his December phone call to a Russian ambassador.
Trump pulled the plug on Flynn for misleading Vice President Pence about the substance of the call, but said the discussion itself was not improper. It was the current or former government officials who he suspects turned classified information over to the press that broke the law, the president said.
" ... the leak environment has just kicked into hyper drive.”
- Thomas Dupree, former deputy assistant attorney general
“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy,” Trump tweeted this week. “Very un-American!”
In recent years, even leakers who claimed to be whistle blowers and cloaked their motives in patriotism have found the law takes a dim view of their activities. Trump on Thursday said the Justice Department will look into the issue, and it is a good bet that Flynn’s replacement, who has not yet been named, will also be charged with rooting out loose-lipped bureaucrats.
“Leaks are prevalent in Washington, [but] I think what makes this different is the leak environment has just kicked into hyper drive,” Thomas Dupree, former deputy assistant attorney general, told Fox News. “In the first few weeks of this administration, we have seen a multitude of leaks on a variety of subjects – from national security to immigration, to the conversation that Flynn had with the Russians – it’s just every direction.”
While some may see leaks as part of the Capitol Hill game, and “whistleblowers” to be admired, what’s happening now seems to have moved beyond giving background information to reporters and into the realm of criminality.
Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., have written to the Department of Justice Inspector General requesting an official probe into how classified information has been handled.
“The release of classified information can, by definition, have grave effects on national security,” Chaffetz wrote in the letter.
Any leakers who are exposed could face serious time in prison.
“They [the penalties] can be pretty serious,” said Dupree “There are a number of provisions in the federal, criminal statutes – Title 18 and elsewhere – that provide everything from fines, to even jail time, for people who leak classified, highly sensitive, national security information.”
Some recent examples:
- Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to in 2013 to 35 years in prison for providing more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks. Manning’s sentence was later commuted by President Obama.
- Jeffrey A. Sterling, who was sentenced to 3 and ½ years in prison for disclosing national defense information and obstructing justice after disclosing classified information to a New York Times reporter.
- Shamai K. Leibowitz, a linguist for the FBI, who was sentenced to 20 months in prison for leaking secret documents to a blogger.
Although suspicion has swirled around a handful of former Obama administration insiders, no one has been identified as a leaker of information damaging to Trump. And none of the leaks themselves have been proven illegal. But Trump, who vowed during his campaign to “drain the swamp,” is finding the first order of business is plugging leaks.