The Justice Department’s second-in-charge on Sunday did not rule out the prospect of prosecuting members of Congress or White House officials for leaking classified information.
Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, stood alongside Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday to announce a new crackdown on government employees who leak classified information to journalists. Rosenstein indicated on Sunday that the new effort to curb leaks might put more than just low-level federal employees in the crosshairs of the department.
Ron Hosko, the former deputy director of the FBI, told The Daily Beast that the agency has in the past identified members of Congress who leaked classified information, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute them, angering FBI agents.
Under Sessions and Rosenstein, that might change.
“What we need to look at in every leak referral we get, we look at the facts and circumstances. What was the potential harm caused by the leak? What were the circumstances? That’s more important to us than who it is who is the leaker,” Rosenstein said on Fox News Sunday.
“So if we identify somebody—no matter what their position is—if they violated the law and that case warrants prosecution, we’ll prosecute it,” Rosenstein continued, adding this includes “anybody who breaks the law.”
Sessions and Rosenstein did not answer questions on Friday about whether journalists would be prosecuted or subpoenaed as part of the leak investigations. On Sunday, Rosenstein said reporters would not be prosecuted for simply “doing their jobs.” Asked whether he considers the publishing of classified information to be a “crime,” Rosenstein declined to “draw any general line” on the subject.
“Generally speaking, reporters who publish information are not committing a crime. But there might be a circumstance where they do,” Rosenstein said. “I haven’t seen any of those to date, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the event that there were a case where a reporter was purposely violating the law, then they might be a suspect as well.”
In May, The New York Times reported that President Trump suggested to then-FBI Director James Comey during a private conversation in the Oval Office that Comey consider jailing reporters for publishing classified information.