Memo has implications for free speech, raises calls for investigation

A media expert says reporting leaked info is not a crime.

CBS News has confirmed the James Comey memo, which first appeared in the New York Times.  It says President Trump asked Comey to "let go" an investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

Deep in the Times story is something else that has people talking.  The article says the President started his discussion with Comey by suggesting that reporters should be put in prison for publishing classified information.

10News took that statement to the Poynter Institute, and expert Al Tompkins.  He’s a news veteran with more than 30 years’ experience working as everything from a photographer, reporter, news director and now one of the most sought after journalism teachers.

Thompkins explains what that statement could mean for the future of the free press.

“I think probably every President back to George Washington has asked the same question at some time.  We don't know what the memo said.  We don't know what conversation was had and what he meant by that.  It wouldn't be that surprising, would it, that an elected official would be frustrated with the press and ask, ‘Would it be illegal if someone leaked classified information and what can we do about that?’ 

"That wouldn’t be that surprising.  What would be surprising is if an FBI Director said, ‘Absolutely, let's go after them and put them in jail.’  There's no evidence that's what happened, and we’ve crossed that bridge before with the Pentagon Paper days. 

"The crime in leaking confidential information, even secret information, is in the theft of it not in the publication of it.  It's interesting that the conversation would happen on the very day one of the WikiLeaks leakers was being let out of military prison.  It's sort of a perfect storm of a day, isn't?  Both a leaker who was convicted and the story of an investigation of a leak would all happen at the same time.  It's a great civics lesson,” Thompkins says. 

“It would be difficult to find a time when there hasn't been difficulty between the press and the President, all the way back to John Adam as the second President of the United States.  He supported an act that made it illegal to criticize the President of the United States or members of Congress.  When you live in a country where there is no friction, then there also is no truth, because the President details what he wants to publish, and that's not the country you want to live in.  It's a messy business this democracy.  It's a messy business, but it's not unpatriotic to ask: is that the truth? 

"Just because you disagree with what I'm reporting, doesn't mean what I'm reporting as fake.  It might be fake, but just because you don't like it doesn't make it fake.  It just makes it an irritant,” says Thompkins.

***

Some lawmakers are calling for a commission or special prosecutor to investigate whether President Trump obstructed justice.

There's been a lot of debate about how best to investigate allegations of ties between President Trump's campaign and the Russian government.  As more information continues to come out, talks are intensifying.

House Democrats want an independent commission to investigate whether President Trump obstructed justice when he fired former FBI director James Comey.  Democrats believe Mr. Trump hindered the FBI investigation into his ties to Russia and into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"The White House is obstructing our investigation, covering up for General Flynn and refusing to provide not a single document, not a single syllable, zilch, nothing," says Rep. Elijah Cummings, (D) Maryland.

Michigan Congressman Justin Amash is one of two House Republicans supporting the motion to force a vote creating an independent commission.

“I think we need to have an independent commission, and I'd go from there,” says Rep. Justin Amash, (R) Michigan.  When asked if he thinks Republican colleagues will start to call for an independent commission, Amash replies, “I hope so.  I think it's appropriate,” says Amash.

“The commission is a political tool,” says USF Political Science professor Ed Benton.  Benton says a commission  may not have as much pull as a special prosecutor.

“What really is the truth?  I think a special prosecutor with his or her own subpoena powers is the way to go.  That person is independent.  They will follow the trail wherever it goes, and whatever comes out of it will be the best we can do with the truth,” says Benton.

Former assistant special counsel Peter Zeidenberg says it could create issues with secrecy, since that appointee can only report criminal findings.  If there was, indeed, other wrong doing that isn't criminal, it may never be revealed.

Benton believes it's time to put what's right ahead of politics.

“It's time for everyone, Democrats to talk about the real reason, stop trying to get one up on the Republican Party, but what Republicans have to do is put country and citizens ahead of partisan loyalty."

© 2017 WTSP-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment