LOCK THEM UP?

Republican Behind Benghazi Probe Suggests Jailing Journalists Who Publish Secrets

Rep. Trey Gowdy suggested reporters should be prosecuted if they publish classified information.

03.20.17 4:18 PM ET

Rep. Trey Gowdy—a favorite of Tea Party activists and Fox News—hinted strongly that reporters should face federal prosecution if they publish classified information.

This came during an exchange with FBI Director James Comey at the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. Gowdy, who chaired the House investigation into Benghazi, asked Comey if there was any law protecting reporters “who want to break a story” from publishing classified information.

“That’s a harder question, as to whether a reporter incurs criminal liability by disclosing classified information,” Comey replied.

“The statute does use the word ‘published,’ doesn’t it?” Gowdy replied.

“It does,” Comey said. “That’s a question I know the Department of Justice has struggled with through administration through administration.”

Gowdy didn’t sound particularly sympathetic with that struggle.

“Lots of people have struggled with it, but you’re not aware of an exception in the current dissemination of classified exception for reporters?” he asked.

“No, I’m not aware of anything carved out in the statute,” Comey said. “I don’t think a reporter has been prosecuted, certainly in my lifetime.”

“There have been a lot of statutes for which no one has been prosecuted or convicted, and that does not keep people from discussing those statutes, namely the logan act,” Gowdy replied.

In recent history, the U.S. government hasn’t prosecuted journalists who publish classified information. Gowdy’s comments indicate there may be an appetite on Capitol Hill for that to change. The South Carolina Republican is on the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department.

The views among Trump allies on prosecuting journalists certainly vary. When Vice President Mike Pence was a member of congress, he pushed for a federal shield law protecting reporters from being forced to reveal their anonymous sources. A Columbia Journalism Review piece published in 2007 dubbed him “journalism’s best ally in the fight to protect anonymous sources.”