In yet another ironic twist, the process (including random phone checks overseen by White House lawyers) by which Sean Spicer is cracking down on leaks from The White House has been leaked to Politico.
The push to snuff out leaks to the press comes after a week in which President Donald Trump expressed growing frustration with the media and the unauthorized sharing of information by individuals in his administration, and as was leaked to Politico…
Last week, after Spicer became aware that information had leaked out of a planning meeting with about a dozen of his communications staffers, he reconvened the group in his office to express his frustration over the number of private conversations and meetings that were showing up in unflattering news stories, according to sources in the room.
Upon entering Spicer’s second floor office, staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a “phone check,” to prove they had nothing to hide.
The phone checks included whatever electronics staffers were carrying when they were summoned to the unexpected follow-up meeting, including government-issued and personal cell phones.
Notably, Spicer explicitly warned staffers that using texting apps like Confide – an encrypted and screenshot-protected messaging app that automatically deletes texts after they are sent – and Signal, another encrypted messaging system; was a violation of the Federal Records Act, according to multiple sources in the room.
Spicer also warned the group of more problems if news of the phone checks and the meeting about leaks was leaked to the media – so much for that.
It’s not the first time that warnings about leaks have promptly leaked. The State Department’s legal office issued a four-page memo warning of the dangers of leaks — that memo was immediately posted by the Washington Post.
First, there’s the prohibition against disclosure of classified information. This is the obvious one, since any publication of classified material to an unauthorized party is illegal. Under the Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C. § 798, a person guilty of this can end up in prison for 10 years and face a fine. If the leaks involved classified information that was sent to members of the press, the source could end up behind bars if they’re caught. Opponents of Hillary Clinton argued that she violated this with her handling of emails on a private server, but the FBI determined they did not have a strong enough case to prosecute. As LawNewz.com contributor Philip Holloway wrote, the information regarding Flynn’s wiretapped phone calls is Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), which is highly classified, so if one of the “current and former U.S. officials” is identified, they could be in trouble.
The form of the leaks could also determine whether additional charges appropriate. If information was merely spoken to a reporter, that’s one thing, but if actual files or physical materials were transferred, then 18 U.S.C. § 641 could kick in. That law says that anyone who steals or provides for another person’s use “any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency” is guilty of a crime. If a source of a government leak turned over a physical record, they could face 10 years in prison and a fine for it.
In addition to laws against revealing certain information, if the President discovers a source behind a leak, they could face additional charges if they lie about it. Besides perjury, which applies to anyone who lies under oath, false statements or covering up material facts in a federal investigation, either by the Department of Justice of Congress, can lead to five years in prison.