Of all the things revealed Wednesday at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, one nugget of information likely disabused the media of any comforting idea the Trump administration would ease up on them any time soon.
Attorney General William Barr, when questioned by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on a purported culture of leaks at the FBI and DOJ during high-profile investigations, Barr answered simply:
[Grassley] told Barr that “there have been a number of leaks coming out of the Justice department and FBI during high-profile investigations.” Grassley pointed out that the 2018 report from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz found “ a culture of unauthorized media contacts … during the Department’s investigation of Hillary Clinton for mishandling highly classified information.” And according to Grassley, “during the Russian investigation, the leaks continued.”
Grassley said “leaks undermine the ability of investigators to investigate” and that “leaks to the papers while Congress’s questions to the Department go unanswered is unacceptable.” He pressed Barr on the issue, asking him, “What are you doing to investigate unauthorized media contacts by the Department and FBI officials during the Russian investigation?”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) later remarked at the end of his questioning (Barr didn’t have the opportunity to respond), “When you’re investigating leaks at the Department of Justice and the FBI, I hope you will include the Mueller team as well.”
While this certainly doesn’t bode well for the legacy employees within federal agencies who may not be aboard the Trump train, it also means members of the press who have taken their farmed out information will, at the very least, be identified by the Trump administration and will almost certainly lose easy access to information to which they’ve become accustomed.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), in sending criminal referrals as they relate to the Russia probe to the DOJ, said in April, “We have a global leaks referral, which involves just a few reporters but could involve multiple people. I don’t think it’s that many people because I think they probably only have a few sources within these agencies.”
As for whether or not the press could actually face criminal charges for receiving leaked information, it’s not likely. This Newseum Freedom Forum primer on free speech why:
There’s no official standard for when it’s a crime for a journalist to publish leaked information, because the government has never prosecuted such a case. But there’s speculation that the “direct, immediate, and irreparable harm” standard would apply. Also, a journalist can’t be punished for publishing info that was obtained illegally, as long as the journalist didn’t do anything illegal.
So, while the press who helped disseminate information about the Russia probe may not face charges themselves, they can count on the president continuing to call them “fake news” for the foreseeable future. And American public will be subjected to their cries of victimhood for the foreseeable future as well.