While replacing a broken hot water heater last Thursday, January 4th 2017, I found myself listening to National Public Radio. On it I happened to catch a program produced by Glenn Beck where he and his co-hosts were debating why Donald Trump Jr’s name had been coming up in so many headlines tied to the Russian investigations recently? What did he actually do wrong and is it all just some big witch-hunt they wondered about aloud?
For those of you whom may be unaware, while his father was on the campaign trail early in 2016, Donald Trump Jr was personally/privately notified through both email and social media, by multiple unknown sources, that Hillary Clinton and the DNC had been hacked and that sensitive information about them had been exposed online. It has also been widely reported that Donald Trump Jr. received this information well before Wikileaks publicly published it online for the first time in March of 2016.
Why Is That Relevant?
Dating back to the days of Edward Snowden in 2015, the FBI has long since been on public record as stating that law enforcement officials will never go after journalists for publishing leaked or classified information online, so long as journalists and news organizations follow certain protocols first.
For example, as James Comey once explained in public testimony in front of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, based on his personal experiences as FBI Director, “American journalists always call us” – the FBI/Federal Government – “before they publish classified information.” According to him, that is how people “balance their First Amendment Rights” as a journalist with making sure no one is put in serious danger because of the material they report. In this way, Comey explains, “at least in my lifetime the Department of Justices’ view has been that news gathering and legitimate news reporting is not going to be investigated or prosecuted or treated as a criminal act” – even if they are reporting on an illegal act.
From The Perspective of A Journalist
Earlier this year I was researching an article regarding a recent hack against NASA.gov‘s email servers. I first became interested after coming across a posting on social media the day beforehand, explaining how a famous group of black-hats had just hacked the log-in credentials of all NASA‘s employees and were now leaking them online. Upon learning this information for the first time my first move was to reach out to NASA Goddard, an agency which I had already exchanged messages with in the past, showing them the information hacked/leaked online and asking if they had any statement or response to the news/breach in question – or if they could confirm whether or not the hack and information exposed was even real in the first place.
It is important to understand that what I did is/was both the “ethical” and “legal” way to go about reporting on news event such as this. Following this sort of procedure/protocol is also exactly why news organizations like The Intercept are allowed to legally exist, and why newspapers such as The Washington Post are legally allowed to publish leaked information from inside the White House seemingly every week. However, had I learned about the existence of the information, kept it private and then shared it with all of my personal friends for them all to see, view or potentially exploit themselves, my story with the Federal Government could have wound up much differently. Had I never reported the information before I wrote about it or shared it with others, one could have potentially argued that I was complicit in unlawfully sharing stolen information.
Now Circling Back To Donald Trump Jr……
That is ultimately where Donald Trump Jr got it wrong or went wrong in his particular situation. Because upon learning that Hillary Clinton and the DNC had been hacked and people were peddling their stolen information, well before Wikileaks or anyone else had publicly released the information online, Donald Trump Jr never reported/communicated this activity or information to Federal authorities. Instead, he reportedly kept it private and shared the emails/messages with those within his own political circle, which also happens to be his fathers inner political circle. While Trump Jr is not a journalist, all of this put together explains why his actions are coming into such serious question now that all of these Federal investigations into Russian interference and political hacking are ongoing.