FBI Director James B. Comey described the difference between investigative journalism and what he called "intelligence porn" released by WikiLeaks, speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3 at the Capitol. (Reuters)

The Trump administration has an interesting relationship with leaks of classified information, and the statement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month that it is now a priority for the United States to arrest Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, further stoked a long-running conversation about the role leaks play in journalism.

There's a debate among government officials and journalists about the hazy line between investigative reporting and the genuine need for the American public to know what its government is doing versus the danger that leaks pose to national security.

It's an even murkier conversation when it comes to WikiLeaks, an organization that President Trump has alternately praised as a “treasure trove” and derided as an irresponsible distributor of America's most valuable secrets.

To its critics, WikiLeaks is a tool of Russian intelligence that was used to undermine U.S. democratic systems. To its supporters, it has played a vital role in informing citizens and holding governments accountable — but that characterization can also change depending on the content of the most recent leaks.

In his appearance on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, FBI Director James B. Comey was given the chance by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) to define the line a little more clearly.

“All of us care deeply about the First Amendment and the ability of a free press to get information about our work and publish it,” Comey said. “It crosses a line when it moves from being about trying to educate a public and instead just becomes about intelligence porn, frankly.”

The key difference, Comey said, is that WikiLeaks is a conduit for foreign intelligence services — Russia, in this case — to publish damaging material about the U.S. government, or even U.S. individuals (like, ahem, Hillary Clinton).

Comey's comments come in the midst of a campaign by Trump and some of his advisers to discredit the media in a broad sense, referring to mainstream organizations as “fake news” and attempting to delegitimize specific reporting of leaks from within his administration.

“At least in my lifetime, the Department of Justice's view has been newsgathering and legitimate news reporting is not covered, is not going to be investigated as a criminal act,” he said.

Journalists actually have been prosecuted for publishing classified information. The best-known case in recent years is the Valerie Plame case, which led to New York Times reporter Judith Miller spending almost three months in jail for refusing to reveal a source in the intelligence community.

But Comey seems to be drawing a harder line when it comes to WikiLeaks. It's worth noting many journalists have never quite figured out whether Assange is one of them or not. Trump seems to have similarly mixed feelings.