FBI Director Comey discusses legality of reporters, stolen Snowden documents

During a hearing Tuesday that included discussion of Edward Snowden's NSA leak, FBI Director James Comey said a reporter selling stolen information would be committing a crime. (The Associated Press)
February 4

In Tuesday’s hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on “Worldwide Threats,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) questioned witnesses, including FBI Director James B. Comey, about the documents taken by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Here is their exchange:

REP. ROGERS: You -- there have been discussions about selling of access to this material to both newspaper outlets and other places. Mr. Comey, to the best of your knowledge, is fencing stolen material -- is that a crime?

DIRECTOR JAMES COMEY: Yes, it is.

REP. ROGERS: And would be selling the access of classified material that is stolen from the United States government -- would that be a crime?

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DIR. COMEY: It would be. It’s an issue that can be complicated if it involves a news-gathering and news promulgation function, but in general, fencing or selling stolen property is a crime.

REP. ROGERS: So if I’m a newspaper reporter for -- fill in the blank -- and I sell stolen material, is that legal because I’m a newspaper reporter?

DIR. COMEY: Right, if you’re a newspaper report and you’re hocking stolen jewelry, it’s still a crime.

REP. ROGERS: And if I’m hocking stolen classified material that I’m not legally in possession of for personal gain and profit, is that not a crime?

DIR. COMEY: I think that’s a harder question because it involves a news-gathering functions -- could have First Amendment implications. It’s something that probably would be better answered by the Department of Justice.

REP. ROGERS: So entering into a commercial enterprise to sell stolen material is acceptable to a legitimate news organization?

DIR. COMEY: I’m not sure I’m able to answer that question in the abstract.

REP. ROGERS: It’s something we ought to think about, is it not?

DIR. COMEY: Certainly.

REP. ROGERS: And so if there are accomplices in purveying stolen information, shouldn’t we be concerned about that?

DIR. COMEY: We should be concerned about all the facts surrounding the theft of classified information and its promulgation.

REP. ROGERS: Hmm. And interesting that over the -- again, the Munich Conference, where we had individuals tell us that in fact there are individuals who are saying to be in possession of this information who are eager to sell this information to other news organizations, would that be a legitimate exercise on behalf of a reporter?

DIR. COMEY: That’s a question -- now you’re getting from the general to the particular. I don’t want to talk about the case in particular because it’s an active investigation of ours.

REP. ROGERS: It’s an active investigation for accomplices brokering in stolen information?

DIR. COMEY: We are looking at the totality of the circumstances around the theft and promulgation.

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