By Jordan Damond
June 14, 2017 (San Diego) -- President Donald Trump and his attorney have accused fired FBI director James Comey of being a “leaker” for providing what they claim was privileged information in memos that Comey arranged for media to receive. But many legal experts contend that Comey may be protected as a whistleblower--and that any actions to retaliate against him could be construed as obstruction of justice. The controversy raises a key question:
Is James Comey a leaker?
According to a Voice of America article that discusses the differences between whistleblowing and leaking, whistleblowing is when someone discloses information to any audience that is not classified or prohibited under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Classified information, by contrast, must go through the proper channels before being released or else it will be classified as a ‘Leak’.
Although those are the official differences between whistleblowing and leaking there, is a lot of inconsistency when it comes to information that is deemed as political gossip and not proof of government wrongdoing. It also doesn’t help that according to Timothy Garton Ash the methods used by whistleblowers and leakers are very similar.
“The means used by leakers … are indistinguishable from those of the anonymous whistleblower, but the intentions are often found to be less high-minded. Whether the leak is from a part of government, a political party or a company, the leakers are as likely as not doing it to promote either the organization’s interests or those of a faction within it,” said Ash
The differences seem to be heavily focused on morality and the reasoning behind the information being linked. Former director of Public Affairs at the Department of Justice, Matthew Miller stated that whistleblowers, “expose violations of law, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific threat to public health or safety.”
Now if we look at James Comey, both parties have argued about what category he falls under. Many Republicans, including the President himself have called him a leaker in response to the hearing while others have defended Comey by stating he is a whistleblower above all else.
The prime defense for those arguing against Comey being a leaker is that the information Comey released was not classified, it was his own notes that he documented on his own accord through his own computer. Trump's lawyers have insinuated that they may be willing to go to court with Comey over the issue, a move that could stifle other potential leakers or whistleblowers.
Harvard Law School’s esteemed Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe has stated that he believe Trump’s tweet calling Comey a leaker “is utterly frivolous and indeed could be characterized as a form of witness intimidation,” Media Matters reports.
It remains to be seen whether President Trump will take legal action, and if so, how a court will rule, but the stakes are high for the President, whistleblowers, and the American public.