President Trump said Friday that he’s “a believer in classified information” and looks favorably on the arrest of a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer accused of lying to the FBI about leaks to the media.
Trump described James Wolfe, the committee’s former security director, as “a very important leaker” and said that his Thursday arrest “could be a terrific thing.”
Trump also said that he believes in press freedom, amid reports that the Justice Department acquired phone and email records of New York Times journalist Ali Watkins, who reportedly was in a romantic relationship with Wolfe.
“I believe strongly in freedom of the press. I’m a big, big believer in freedom of the press,” Trump said. “But I’m also a believer in classified information. It has to remain classified. And that includes [former FBI Director James] Comey and his band of thieves who leaked classified information all over the place. So I’m a very big believer in freedom of the press, but I’m also a believer you cannot leak classified information.”
Wolfe has not been charged with specific crimes covering mishandling classified information. An indictment includes three false-statement charges relating to four reporters, however, and links his handling of a classified document with a story published by Watkins.
So far in Trump’s presidency, just two other alleged leakers have been prosecuted: former NSA contractor Reality Winner and former FBI agent Terry Albury.
Winner, jailed without bail pending trial, was arrested in June 2017 for allegedly providing a document to The Intercept on 2016 Russian attempts to hack election systems. Albury, who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to two felonies in April, is believed to have sent The Intercept an FBI guide to informant recruitment and rules for seizing records from journalists.
Trump, who routinely denounces leaks, returned to the subject of Wolfe’s prosecution later in a wide-ranging gaggle with reporters on Friday, saying that “I think you have a double edge. Reporters can’t leak. You cannot leak classified information.”
It’s unclear what he meant to communicate about reporters being unable to leak, as reporters arguably are immune to charges for publishing classified information — though the legal question is unsettled. But Trump added: “At the same time, we need freedom of the press. But you cannot leak. Like Hillary Clinton did, like Comey did. You cannot leak classified information.”
Trump then returned to a favorite subject, invoking the year-long prison sentence given to former Navy sailor Kristian Saucier. Trump allowed Saucier to serve his full prison sentence, but pardoned him this year. Saucier took six photos inside a nuclear submarine that were deemed to contain confidential information, the lowest level of classification.
“If you look at the young sailor, Saucier, he went to jail over not classified — a much lower level. And it’s very unfair that he goes to jail and that Comey is allowed to do it all over,” Trump said.
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