Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, then Republican candidate Donald Trump railed against Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton about her alleged disclosure of classified material during her tenure as Secretary of State. The Republican controlled Congress, led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), spent $22 million dollars of taxpayer money on the wasted Benghazi hearings, all with the intent to prove criminal wrongdoing in Clinton’s alleged mishandling of classified material entrusted to her supervision.
While this fruitless investigation was underway, Trump was rousing his pristine all-white, Clinton-hating crowds on the campaign trail with juvenile chants of “lock her up.” While then U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions and retired Army Lt. General Michael Flynn were in falsetto union echoing the “lock her up” chants, Sessions and Flynn, along with seventeen other Trump campaign officials, were meeting with Russians, desperately trying to get Trump elected president.
Mishandling Classified Information
Some 4.5 million people have access to classified material in this country. Some of the nation’s most prominent and trusted government officials have mishandled classified material. They include three former CIA Directors (John Deutch, David Petraeus, and Leon Panetta), a former National Security Adviser (Sandy Berger), and a former U.S. Attorney General (Alberto Gonzales).
President-elect Donald Trump tagged Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General and Michael Flynn as his National Security Adviser. Flynn, who was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for lying to the FBI about his repeated secret contacts with the Russians, was actually speaking with the Russians while the president was being inaugurated; and Sessions lied on both his national security clearance forms and during his Senate confirmation hearings about not having any contacts with the Russians during the Trump campaign.
A safe assumption can be made that both of these early Trump appointees mishandled sensitive classified information in their dealings with the Russians. Concern for proper handling of classified information also did not particularly disturb the president (who has an inexplicable affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin) as was evidenced less than four months into his administration. In May of 2017, the Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump had disclosed “highly classified information” to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting in the White House.
Trump Called for Harsh Prosecution of “Leakers”
This is the same person who said NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a traitor who should be executed and called Army Private Chelsea Manning an “ungrateful traitor” following President Obama commutation of her sentence because both low level government officials had disclosed classified information.
Let’s get these facts straight: According to President Trump, who has repeatedly mishandled classified information, Hillary Clinton should have been locked up for her unproven mishandling of classified material, Edward Snowden should be executed, and Chelsea Manning should still be in prison serving her 35-year sentence, all of whom supposedly mishandled classified information, just as the president has done on more than one occasion.
DOJ Triples Number of Investigations into Leaks
In an August 4, 2017 Newsweek report, Attorney General Sessions said the Department of Justice (DOJ) had tripled its number of investigations into the leaks of classified information over the number of investigations conducted during the last three years of the Obama administration. He boasted that four people had been charged, but the identity of only one had been disclosed by the DOJ: Reality Winner, a 25-year-old government contractor who has been indicted for leaking classified information to The Intercept.
“Referrals for investigations of classified leaks to the Department of Justice from our intelligence agencies have exploded,” Sessions was quoted in the Newsweek report. “In the first six months of this administration, DOJ has already received nearly as many criminal referrals involving unauthorized disclosures of classified information as we received in the last three years combined.”
Hodgepodge of Law Governing Unauthorized Disclosures
Most people generally believe that disclosure of classified information is a “violation of the law.” Actually there is a hodgepodge of laws that governs unauthorized disclosures. They are:
- 18 U.S.C. § 793: A person who unlawfully possesses or has access to “information respect the national defense,” and who discloses that information in some unauthorized manner may be imprisoned up to ten years and/or fined up to $250,000. This statute applies only when the official disclosing the unauthorized information “has reason to believe” the disclosed information “could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign country.”
- S.C. § 798: Governs only information pertaining to communications intelligence §systems and activities of the U.S. Any person who knowingly and willfully discloses any such unauthorized information may, upon conviction, be sentenced to forfeit to the government: 1) any property constituting, or derived from, any proceeds the person obtained, directly or indirectly, as the result of such violation; and 2) any of the person’s property used, or intended to be used, in any manner or part, to commit, or to facilitate the commission, of such violation.
- 18 U.S.C. § 795 & 797: Both statutes prohibit the unauthorized creation, publication, sale, or transfer of photographs or sketches of vital defense installations or equipment as defined by the President. A violation of either § 795 or § 797 can result in a sentence of not more than one year and/or a fine.
- S.C. 50 §§ 421-426: Amended the National Security Act of 1947 to prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of intelligence officers, agents, informants and sources. Anyone who violates this law, known as the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, is subject to imprisonment of not more than 3 years and/or a fine of not more Than $15,000.
- 18 U.S.C. § 641: Prohibits the conversion of government property or records for one’s own use or the use of another person. This statute, which is seldom ever used, provides a penalty of not more than ten years and/or a fine.
There is a public perception that most disclosures of classification information will be prosecuted under the WWI Espionage Act of 1917 which is codified and amended in 18 U.S.C. §§ 793-798. Each section of the Act criminalizes the gathering, handling, or transmitting of information or other material “relating to the nation defense””—commonly referred to as national defense information—and other protected classes of documents, material, or information defined by statute.
Public perception about the Espionage Act was fueled when the Obama administration charged NSA leaker Edward Snowden under the Act. This perception can actually be traced back to the infamous spy case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were convicted in 1951 of giving nuclear secrets to the Russians and executed in New York’s Sing Sing Prison two years later. Another famous Espionage Act case occurred in 1994 and involved CIA analyst Aldridge Ames
The Trump Justice Department is also going after Reality Winner under the Espionage Act. According to ACLU numbers, she is now the 9th person charged under the Act since 2010, the first during the Trump administration.
White House Has Shared Classified Information without Official Clearance
We find it terribly disturbing that the President of the United States, who casually shared classified information with Russian officials in the Oval Office, has allowed his son-in-law Jared Kushner and former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter to have access to the most guarded classified information in America’s vault of secrecy without official security clearance to do so and has allowed another 100 White House officials to operate with only interim security clearances.
The Trump administration will target a little Georgia contract worker like Reality Winner to prosecute for disclosing classification information to a publication when it has secretly allowed the three top Russian intelligence chiefs into our country to meet with our intelligence leaders and other government officials. The average American citizen does not know, and probably will never know, just how much highly sensitive classified information was given to these Russian spies who will now use it against the interests of the United States.
Executive Orders Concerning Classified Information
According to The Brennan Center for Justice, every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has issued an executive order that governs the nation’s classification of information system. President Trump has not issued such an order. Below is a list of the executive orders issued by the president dealing with national security:
- EO13769 (01-27-17): Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into U.S.;
- EO 13773 (02-09-17): Enforcing federal law with respect to transnational criminal organization and preventing international trafficking;
- EO 13780 (03-06-17): Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into U.S.;
- EO 13781 (03-13-17): Comprehensive plan for reorganizing the executive branch;
- EO 13800 (05-11-17): Strengthening the cybersecurity of federal networks and critical infrastructure;
- EO 13810 (09-20-17): Imposing additional sanctions with respect to North Korea;
- EO 13817 (12-20-17): A federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical materials;
- EO 13818 (12-20-17): Blocking the property of persons involved in serious human rights abuse or corruption; and
- EO 13823 (01-30-18): Protecting America through lawful detention of terrorists.
This president has neither the respect for nor the appreciation of classified national security information, as evidenced by his release of the “Nunes Memo.” Despite every one of intelligence chiefs telling both Congress and the president himself that the Russians not only interfered with the 2016 presidential election but are targeting the 2018 mid-term elections, President Trump continues to have secret, unannounced private telephone conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the very man trying to not only control the American electoral process but subvert the very national security of this nation.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the United States is investigating a “national security” unclassified disclosure by little Reality Winner to the Intercept. The Attorney General has not even inquired as to what kind of classified information was shared with those three Russian spy chiefs who were given carte blanche access to the nation’s intelligence community.
We dare not even think what kind of classified information the president is sharing with Putin during their secret telephone chats over midnight cheeseburgers.