Washington • President Donald Trump has declared war on classified leaks that have deluged his White House and Rep. Chris Stewart wants to help take down those government officials sharing secrets they aren’t authorized to divulge.
Stewart, a Utah Republican and former U.S. Air Force major who held a classified clearance, has introduced legislation that would make it a crime – punishable by up to three years in prison – to share classified information with someone not legally authorized to have it. A patchwork of laws currently can be used to prosecute leaks, though there’s no single law that covers all unauthorized disclosures.
In its first six months, the Trump White House faced an onslaught of leaks to the news media, with the bulk of them focused on the U.S. intelligence community’s look at Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
A review by the GOP staff of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security found 125 leaks in 126 days of the Trump administration.
“I believe when you leak the kind of information that seems to be routinely leaked - high, high level of classification … I think it’s darn close to treason,” retired Gen. John Kelly, then the Homeland Security Department secretary and now Trump’s chief of staff, told “Meet The Press” on May 28.
Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says his legislation is aimed at having one law to make it easier for prosecutors to go after government officials who are leaking secret materials.
“Leaking of classified information harms our nation’s credibility and undermines the brave men and women who protect our national security every day,” Stewart said. “Leakers are not heroes. Leakers are criminals.”
Stewart says there is already a process for government employees to report wrongdoing under whistleblower laws.
Trump has blasted leaks in the executive branch since the day he came into office and has blamed a “deep state” of holdovers from President Barack Obama’s administration for trying to undercut his presidency.
But government watchdogs worry that Trump’s White House is trying to punish government workers who are identifying wrongdoing. Leaks so far this year have brought out publicly the intelligence community’s finding that Russia was attempting to help Trump win the election as well as actions by Trump’s team in giving misleading explanations.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, for example, was fired after it became clear he had met with Russia’s ambassador but did not disclose that in obtaining a security clearance.
“This bill seems targeted at plugging leaks from President Trump’s own White House staff,” says Charles Tobin, former chairman of the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law and co-leader of the Ballard Spahr Media and Entertainment Law Group.
“That hardly seems necessary, or in the public interest,” Tobin added. “Federal laws already in place adequately punish disclosure of appropriately classified information while balancing the public’s right to know.”