Rep. Trey Gowdy grilled FBI Director James Comey on the several intelligence leaks that made headlines this year.
The leaks to the liberal media were meant to damage Trump administration officials.
A transcript of the exchange follows.
Rep. Gowdy: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Director Comey, you and I were discussing the felonious dissemination of classified material during the last round. Is there an exception in the law for current or former U.S. officials who request anonymity?
Director Comey: To release classified information?
Gowdy: Yes, sir.
Gowdy: Is there an exception in the law for reporters who want to break a story?
Comey: Well, that’s a harder question, as to whether a reporter incurs criminal liability by publishing classified information, and one probably beyond my ken. I’m not as good a lawyer as Mr. Schiff said I used to be.
Gowdy: Well, I don’t know about that, but the statute does use the word publish, doesn’t it?
Comey: It does, but that’s a question I know the Department of Justice has struggled with through administration after administration.
Gowdy: I know the department struggled with it, the fourth circuit struggled with it, lots of people struggled with it, but you’re not aware of an exception in the current dissemination of classified information statute that carves out an exception for reporters?
Comey: No, I’m not aware of anything carved out in the statute. I don’t think a reporter’s been prosecuted, certainly in my lifetime, no.
Gowdy did a good job of establishing that what the reporters did was indeed illegal, under all circumstance.
Gowdy: Well, there have been a lot of statutes at bar in this investigation for which no one’s ever been prosecuted or convicted, and that does not keep people from discussing those statutes, namely, the Logan Act. In theory, how would reporters know a U.S. citizen made a telephone call to an agent of a foreign power?
Comey: How would they know legally?
Comey: If it was declassified and then discussed in a judicial proceeding or a congressional hearing, something like that.
Gowdy: And assume none of those facts are at play, how would they know?
Comey: Someone told them who shouldn’t have told them.
Gowdy: How would a reporter know about the existence of intercepted phone calls?
Comey: Same thing. In a legitimate way, through an appropriate proceeding where there’s been declassification, and any other way in an illegitimate way.
Gowdy: How would reporters know if a transcript existed of an intercepted communication?
Comey: Same answer. The only legitimate way would be through a proceeding, appropriate proceeding. The illegitimate way would be somebody told them who shouldn’t have told them.
Gowdy: What does the term mask mean in the concept of FISA and other surveillance programs?
Comey: As Director Rogers explained, it’s our practice, approved by the FISA court, of removing the names of U.S. persons to protect their privacy and their identity, unless it hits certain exceptions. So, masking means, as Mike Rogers said, I’ll often see an intelligence report from NSA that will say, U.S. person number one, U.S. person number two, U.S. person number three and there’s no further identification on the document.