Trump's Anger Over Leaks Could Prompt Prosecutions
The most serious leaks center around the contents of phone conversations the government intercepted between Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and Michael Flynn, who was just forced to resign as national security adviser, experts tell the website.
"If somebody disclosed the contents of intercepted phone conversations to a reporter, I could see a prosecution, for sure," said Ed MacMahon, a northern Virginia defense attorney. "That is plainly a felony."
A law aimed at stopping leaks of intelligence-related intercepts imposes a prison term of up to 10 years for each violation. As recently as 2009, a Hebrew contract translator for the FBI was charged with revealing classified communications intelligence to a blogger and eventually sentenced to 20 months in prison, Politico noted.
Trump has made no secret of his frustration over the leaks, denouncing "low-life leakers" and vowing they will be caught.
"I've gone to all of the folks in charge of the various agencies ... I've actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks," Trump said.
But political veterans and those inside the intelligence community said the number of leaks is not terribly unusual.
"I deplore it," said retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former NATO commander. "It is illegal."
But he added: "I don't see an unusual level of leaks," he said. "I have yet to see anything that really shocks me."
While the risk of potential prosecutions grows, there is a question of whether a jury would actually convict someone who appeared motivated by concern that Trump aides were too close to Russian officials, according to Politico.
"Leak prosecutions just depend on whose ox is being gored …" said attorney MacMahon. "The government can destroy somebody's life in one of these cases. It just comes down to whether the government wants to prosecute the case."
Steven Aftergood, head of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told The Washington Post: "…even if the leaks are potential crimes, it may not be possible or practical to prosecute them. Investigators and prosecutors only pursue a fraction of the leaks that are reported to them."