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Glenn Greenwald on Flynn-Russia Leaks: Highly Illegal & Wholly Justified

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While congressional Democrats and some Republicans are pushing for probes into President Trump’s ties to Russia, Trump has focused largely on going after those who have leaked information to the press. On Monday, Trump’s national security adviser was forced to resign after The Washington Post reported on leaks of classified intelligence revealing that Flynn had engaged in talks with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the transition period, while Barack Obama was still president. In a tweet this morning, Trump wrote, "The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!" On Wednesday, he wrote, "Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?).Just like Russia." We speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to look at the growing scandal over the Trump administration’s alleged dealings with Russia before and after the November election. There have been a number of developments in the past 24 hours. The Wall Street Journal is reporting U.S. intelligence officials are withholding sensitive intelligence from President Trump because they’re concerned it could be leaked or compromised. The New York Times is reporting Trump is considering ordering a review of the nation’s intelligence agencies led by Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire private equity executive who is close to Stephen Bannon and Jared Kushner.

Meanwhile, Trump has publicly defended Michael Flynn, who resigned Monday as national security adviser after admitting he gave Vice President Mike Pence and others incomplete information about his calls with the Russian ambassador in December. Trump spoke about Flynn during his press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Michael Flynn, General Flynn, is a wonderful man. I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media—as I call it, the fake media, in many cases. And I think it’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly. I think, in addition to that, from intelligence, papers are being leaked. Things are being leaked. It’s criminal action. Criminal act. And it’s been going on for a long time, before me. But now it’s really going on. And people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton. I think it’s very, very unfair what’s happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated and the documents and papers that were illegally—I stress that—illegally leaked. Very, very unfair.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump’s comments came just a day after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had lost faith in General Flynn.

PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: This was an act of trust. Whether or not he actually misled the vice president was the issue. And that was ultimately what led to the president asking for and accepting the resignation of General Flynn. That’s it, pure and simple. It was a matter of trust.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: While congressional Democrats and some Republicans are pushing for probes into Trump’s ties to Russia, Trump has focused largely on going after those who have leaked information to the press. In a tweet this morning, Trump wrote, quote, "The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!" On Wednesday, Trump indirectly accused the NSA and FBI of being behind the leaks. He wrote":https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/831840306161123328, quote, "Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?).Just like Russia."

AMY GOODMAN: Some supporters of Trump, including Breitbart News, have accused the intelligence agencies of attempting to wage a "deep state coup" against the president. Meanwhile, some critics of Trump are openly embracing such activity. Bill Kristol, the prominent Republican analyst who founded The Weekly Standard, wrote on Twitter, "Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state," unquote.

To help make sense of what’s happening, we’re joined by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept. His most recent piece is headlined "The Leakers Who Exposed Gen. Flynn’s Lie Committed Serious—and Wholly Justified—Felonies."

Glenn, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain what you mean.

GLENN GREENWALD: There’s no question that whoever leaked the contents of General Flynn’s telephone calls with the Russian ambassador and other Russian diplomats committed what the law regards as extremely serious crimes. As we all know from the last eight years under President Obama, they—the U.S. government treats it as a criminal act, a felony, to leak information that is deemed classified. In the scheme of what is regarded as criminal in terms of leaks, the most serious or one of the most serious bits of information that can be leaked is what’s called signals intelligence, or information gathered by the NSA or the CIA or other intelligence agencies in terms of eavesdropping on foreign governments. And that’s exactly what got leaked, was information that the NSA and the CIA say that they gathered as a result of targeting Russian officials with eavesdropping. And along the course of that eavesdropping, they happened hear General Flynn’s conversations with those Russian officials. That’s what they claim. It’s possible they actually targeted General Flynn. We don’t know. That’s the claim. And if that is true, what they’re claiming, it means that the leaking of this information is considered a very serious felony. In fact, the law says that it’s not just whoever leaks signals intelligence is guilty of a felony, but anyone who publishes it, too. So, theoretically, it makes the journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, all of whom have leaked signals intelligence, guilty of felonies. My view is that the First Amendment’s freedom of the press clause would bar any such prosecutions, but at least under the statute it is a crime.

So then the question becomes: Well, if it’s criminal, is it justified? And my view is the same view that I had for the eight years under President Obama and for the years before that under President Bush, which is that people inside the government who leak classified information that the public has a right to know, even if they’re breaking the law, are acting commendably and justifiably and heroically, and that those people ought to be celebrated and treated as people defending democracy and transparency, and not be treated as criminals. Unfortunately, over the last eight years, Democrats have had a completely different view of people who leak classified information. And the tweet that you just read from President Trump, saying whoever leaked this information are low-life leakers who deserve to be punished, that sounds very, very, very similar to everything I’ve heard from most Democrats over the last eight years as they called for the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning and Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden and the long list of other whistleblowers and leakers that President Obama so aggressively and vindictively prosecuted. But, for me, my view has not changed, which is, when an official as senior as General Flynn lies to the public, which is what he did—he denied publicly that he discussed the issue of sanctions with the Russian ambassador in his December phone call—information that shows that he lied is information that the public has the right to know. And even though I think there are very grave dangers and grave concerns, that I hope we’ll discuss, in terms of what the deep state is doing in trying to destroy the Trump administration, that was duly elected, in this particular case, whoever leaked this information helped the public to understand and to learn exactly how General Flynn lied, and therefore, despite being illegal, highly illegal, I actually think it’s also wholly justified, as I wrote in that piece.

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