Echoing concerns raised by many Republicans in Congress, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said at hearing Wednesday that a outside special investigator is needed to investigate a host of recent national security leaks.
“We are asking the U.S. Attorney in D.C. to investigate leaks and if he follows DOJ policy he has to ask the AG 4 months shy of an election for permission to subpoena a reporter in a case that may be embarrassing to the administration,” Gowdy said. “So why do we not have a special investigator?”
This is not the first time GOP lawmakers have pushed the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor. After Attorney General Eric Holder announced his decision to appoint District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Ron Machen and Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein to investigate the high-profile leaks, 31 Republicans called for a special prosecutor. Earlier this month, the New York Times published a series of articles revealing information about sensitive national security issues such as President Barack Obama’s alleged terrorist “hit list,” the administrations use of drone strikes and the United States’ involvement in “Stuxnet” — a virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear facility.
Gowdy’s comments came during a House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security hearing where lawmakers grappled with the difficulty of protecting sensitive national security information while also respecting the First Amendment right to free speech.
“How do we balance the need to keep certain information confidential with the importance of upholding free speech?” asked Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif).
The lawmakers are poised to revisit the 1917 Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to deliver national security information to a person who is “not entitled to have it.” The act is vague, though, and is “terribly ill-suited” to the task of prosecuting national security leaks in the digital age American University Washington College of Law professor Steven Vladeck said.
“The act does not focus on the initial party who knowingly reveals the act,”Vladeck continued. “The text of the act draws no distinction between the leaker, the recipient of the leak, and the 100th person to read the leak.”
The lawmakers agreed the 1917 act is outdated and needs revision.
“This is our third hearing on this issue in the last year and a half,” House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) said. “There’s a real imperative to take a look at the legislation and bring it in to the modern age.”