Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) caught everyone's attention as the chair of the House Benghazi Committee, quickly becoming a favorite among many conservative pundits.
Now, he's making headlines once again because of the incredibly shortsighted comments regarding freedom of speech protections he made during an exchange with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey, the Daily Beast reports.
As the House Intelligence Committee interviewed Comey during a hearing on Russia's alleged efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, Gowdy asked Comey if reporters “who want to break story” by using classified information are protected by any United States laws.
Instead of simply referring to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution for an answer, Comey replied by saying:
“That’s a harder question, as to whether a reporter incurs criminal liability by disclosing classified information.”
To which Gowdy replied with yet another question:
“The statute does use the word ‘published,’ doesn’t it?”
Comey then answered that yes, it does. “That's a question I know the Department of Justice has struggled with through administration,” he added. But Gowdy, apparently, wasn't impressed. Instead of laying the subject to rest, he continued:
“Lots of people have struggled with it, but you’re not aware of an exception in the current dissemination of classified exception for reporters?”
Claiming that no, he is not “aware of anything carved out in the statute,” Comey added that he didn't know of any “reporter [who] has been prosecuted, certainly in my lifetime.”
Again, Gowdy pressed further, adding that just because “[t]here have been a lot of statutes for which no one has been prosecuted or convicted,” it does not “keep people from discussing those statutes.”
What he seems to have suggested with this exchange is that the sentiment among many in Washington, D.C., is that journalists who publish classified information should be subject to prosecution. If his comments serve as an indicator of anything, the Daily Beast reports, it is that “there may be an appetite on Capitol Hill” for a change in policy.
But would President Donald Trump's administration go along with a proposed change?
The president just might, as his first months in office have been plagued by leaks made to the press. But what about others — would they agree with Trump?
Vice President Mike Pence once pushed for a federal law that would shield protections from having to release information on their anonymous sources as a member of Congress. So unless he's changed his mind, he might not be sympathetic to any change proposals.
Still, if a shift were to be implemented, federal agencies would be given a green light to start going after journalists for publishing information produced by whistleblowers. And as we all know, such information is vital in any healthy society.
Elected officials must be kept in check, and the only way to do so is to allow whistleblowers to have a medium in which they can expose wrongdoing.
While it's the duty of the journalist to be responsible about the information he or she reports, it's also important that reporters are protected from government pressure and intimidation — otherwise, the stories that matter won't be published.
What is Gowdy trying to do — make journalists fear speaking the truth about U.S. politics?
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Jonathan Ernst