President Trump asked former FBI Director Jim Comey to lock up journalists for publishing classified information during a February Oval Office meeting, according to a memo written by Comey shortly after the meeting summarized Tuesday by The New York Times.
Trump urged Comey to imprison journalists at the beginning of an exchange during which he also asked the former FBI chief to back off an investigation into then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, according to the story:
Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.
Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.
This isn’t the first time President Trump has threatened to curtail press access or punish leakers. On March 20, he tweeted, “must find leaker now!” in response to successive stories about the ongoing FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s associates and Russian officials.
This latest revelation is “a disturbing yet unsurprising culmination of Trump’s war on the press,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in an email.
“Reporting on classified information is a bedrock right of journalists, and so I guess it’s only natural, given his past statements, that Trump wants to take that away,” he said. “Any prosecution of reporters for publishing true information about our government would strike at the very heart of press freedom.”
Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics. He’s also reported for USA TODAY College and The Sacramento Bee, and he was editor in chief of The Orion, Chico State’s student-run newspaper. An Air Force brat who grew up around Northern California, he’s still adjusting to the Florida sunshine.