By BRYAN RAHIJA
Kudos to ABC's Jake Tapper for calling out the White House on its unprecedented use of the Espionage Act to silence whistleblowers.
In a question to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at a press briefing earlier this week, Tapper pointed out the massive disconnect between the Obama Administration's praise of aggressive journalism abroad and its apparent proclivity for silencing truth-tellers on the home front:
The White House keeps praising these journalists who are -- who've been killed... How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistleblowers to court?
You're -- currently I think that you've invoked it the sixth time, and before the Obama administration, it had only been used three times in history. You're -- this is the sixth time you're suing a CIA officer for allegedly providing information in 2009 about CIA torture. Certainly that's something that's in the public interest of the United States. The administration is taking this person to court. There just seems to be disconnect here. You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don't want it in the United States.
That's right -- the Obama Administration has brandished the Espionage Act in six cases to prosecute leaks of classified information to the media, compared to just three such cases in all previous administrations. This effectively equates blowing the whistle to a ninth-circle offense, putting truth tellers in the same category as the likes of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
Carney's reply held about as much substance as a fist full of cotton candy -- he said he "would hesitate to speak to any particular case, for obvious reasons," and referred Tapper to the Justice Department.
But Tapper pressed on: "So the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn't come out here?"
Carney's response: "Well, that's not at all what I'm saying, Jake, and you know it's not."
That might not be what Carney is saying, but it's certainly what the Obama Administration's actions suggest. There's really no other way to interpret the Obama Administration's over-zealous use of the Espionage Act. As the Government Accountability Project's Jesselyn Radack pointed out, in the Justice Department's (DOJ's) disastrous case against whistleblower Tom Drake, DOJ requested a harsh sentence for Drake specifically to "send a message" to the intelligence community. (The case against Drake -- who is exactly the kind of whistleblower who deserves protection -- ultimately went down in flames.)
It's important to remember that President Obama's Justice Department can choose which cases to pursue and how to pursue them. Thus far, it appears to have chosen to declare open season on whistleblowers, using over-the-top Espionage Act prosecutions to attack the messengers while ignoring the wrongdoing and potential crimes they're exposing. The upshot? Journalists and the American people won't be able to rely on whistleblowers for information about how their government really works.
Bryan Rahija is POGO's Blog Editor.
How will Donald Trump’s first 100 days impact YOU? Subscribe, choose the community that you most identify with or want to learn more about and we’ll send you the news that matters most once a week throughout Trump’s first 100 days in office. Learn more