Pr4obably, the most uncomfortable moments for James Comey in Monday’s questioning came from Trey Gowdy. On a wide range of topics, Trey Gowdy was prepared to do battle and Comey simply was not, mostly because he was trying to shape the narrative by leaving major facts out. My favorite was when Comey and Gowdy were discussing leaks. Comey admitted that much of what he has read in the papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post is simply wrong.
“I’ve read a whole lot of stuff, especially in the last two months, that’s just wrong,” Comey said. “But I can’t say which is wrong.” …
“We’ll give information to our adversaries that way,” he said. Also: “We can’t because where do you stop on that slope? ‘Cause then, when I don’t call the New York Times and say, ‘You got that one wrong,’ bingo; they got that one right. So it’s just an enormously complicated endeavor for us. We have to stay clear of it entirely.”
“What is the obligation of the intelligence community to correct such falsehoods?” Turner asked.
“We not only have no obligation to correct that; we can’t,” Comey replied. “It’s very, very frustrating,” he added, “but we can’t start down that road.”
“The main reason bad information gets reported through anonymous sourcing, is that the sources reporters use “don’t know as much as they think they do.” They tend to be one or two levels outside the truth, but think they really know what’s going on. They want to feel more important, and that impulse either prompts them to reach out to reporters or to embellish when they do call.”
It’s at this point that Gowdy asks Comey why the reporters spreading these falsehoods are not arrested and prosecuted:
“Is there an exception in the law for current or former U.S. officials requesting anonymity?” Gowdy asked Comey during testimony about Russia’s interference in the U.S. election. Gowdy was asking about U.S. statute that forbids the leaking of classified material.
The FBI director said there was not an exception for U.S. officials.
“Is there an exception in the law for reporters who want to break a story?” asked Gowdy.
Comey struggled to answer the question, saying it was something that had never been prosecuted “in my lifetime.”
Was Gowdy serious about this question? Gowdy had also pressed for an answer on whether the FBI was investigating the leaks through which the Michael Flynn transcript was publicized, but Comey had refused to confirm or deny that such a probe was underway. When Comey replied that “I don’t want to confirm it by saying we’re investigating it,” Gowdy clearly got frustrated with that answer, telling Comey to get authority to open such an investigation, pronto. That frustration may have prompted the question about the ability to prosecute reporters.
In practice, there has always been an exception for reporters, and it’s been interesting to see how that plays out between Democratic and Republican administrations. During the Bush administration, supporters demanded legal penalties for reporters at the New York Times for publishing classified information on counterterrorism operations (especially the SWIFT program), only to reverse course during the Obama administration when it surveilled reporters. Partisans for the other side did the same thing in reverse.
— Reuters Politics (@ReutersPolitics) March 20, 2017