“This all supposedly started because of a whistleblower,” President Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow said Tuesday during the first day of the Senate impeachment trial. “Where is that whistleblower?” he added as he closed his notebook and walked away from the Senate podium.
Whether you think that’s blaming the messenger or not, the reality is the Ukraine whistleblower’s job is done. The whistleblower, is, however, still a target. Over the weekend, another of the president’s lawyers, Pam Bondi, said the whistleblower is “not a real whistleblower,” but an informant and leaker.
Whistleblowers, including this one, have been called worse. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway described the whistleblower as “more blowhard than whistleblower.” The president and others like to refer to the “so-called” whistleblower. Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera called the whistleblower a rat and a snitch. Rush Limbaugh also called the whistleblower a leaker.
So, we return to the question — What’s wrong with being a leaker? Are all leaks illegal? Can you be a whistleblower and not be a leaker? All this came up in 2017 when President Trump called former FBI chief James Comey a leaker.
NWC chair Stephen M. Kohn clarified the difference in this Washington Post video, where he states that criticism of some leakers “might be valid…but the real motive here is to scare people, to discriminate and distract.” He points out that there are ways to blow the whistle and disclose information lawfully.
As Charlie Savage of The New York Times wrote, most leaks are not illegal, but some are. There is no legal definition for the word “leak,” but he noted it usually refers to the unauthorized sharing of confidential information with the public.
Whistle-blowing is a subset of leaks about waste, fraud, illegality, abuse of power or some other form of government or corporate wrongdoing. Defenders and critics of leakers often spar over whether any particular disclosure meets that higher moral standard…
Federal law criminalizes the leaking of certain types of information. The Espionage Act makes it a felony to disclose, to someone not authorized to receive it, information related to the national defense that could be used to harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary. A small handful of specific types of information — like nuclear secrets, the identities of covert agents and techniques for surveillance of intelligence communications — are separately protected by law. For most of American history, the government did not punish leakers through criminal action, but in the 21st century, leak prosecutions have become more common.
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