Friday, July 13, 2012

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The Republicans in the House are having themselves a high old time. Rather than addressing serious issues, they've been play-acting: holding the Attorney General in contempt; passing a bill to repeal "Obamacare;" and, now, going after journalists who publish leaks from government whistle blowers.

Expressing outrage over national security leaks, Republicans on a House Judiciary subcommittee pressed legal experts Wednesday on whether it was possible to prosecute reporters for publishing classified information.

The response was a qualified yes.

"Under certain circumstances, you can see that if someone acting with impunity and knowledge of the consequences goes ahead and publishes it, that is something that I think would be worthy of prosecution and punishment," said Kenneth Wainstein, a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft who specializes in national security.

The hearing of the crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee follows publication in recent weeks in the New York Times and other outlets of detailed accounts about cyber warfare, the slaying of Osama bin Laden and alleged "kill lists" maintained for targeting foreign terrorists. ...

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) suggested that the U.S. attorneys subpoena journalists to determine the names of sources who provide classified information.

"Put them in front of the grand jury," Gowdy said. "You either answer the question or you're going to be held in contempt and go to jail, which is what I thought all reporters aspire to do anyway. I thought that was the crown jewel of the reporter's resume to actually go to jail protecting a source." ...

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said that some leaks revealed abuses, such as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. He questioned why Congress should be so concerned about the current leaks when leaks had occurred in every administration.

Instead of looking for ways to go after journalists, the government should be focused on updating outdated laws like the Espionage Act in a way that will protect journalists and government interests, said Bruce Brown, a partner at Baker & Hostetler law firm.

"What's unfortunate is that rather than grappling with this question in a measured, rationale [sic] way, whenever disclosures are in the headlines then lawmakers have a tendency to latch on to this area," Brown said.

What? Approach an issue in a rational way? Oh, please. We're talking Republicans and we're coming up on an election.

To be fair, it's not just Republicans. The administration is none too pleased with the published leaks and it has gone after whistle blowers with a vengeance. But it hasn't so far threatened the journalists who are the recipients of the leaks.

Apparently the message the Republicans are sending to the media is that journalists should stick to what they do best: covering missing white women, shark attacks, and unedited GOP talking points. Straying from those beats will cause problems for everyone.

In other words, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

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