Betsy DeVos Reportedly Asked If Leakers Could Be Prosecuted (& She's Not The First)
President Trump's education secretary, like other administration officials, reportedly doesn't take kindly to leakers. According to an internal memo reviewed by The Washington Post, Betsy DeVos asked if department leakers could be prosecuted for releasing information to media outlets.
DeVos's department posed the question to the department's Office of Inspector General in late March and highlighted department-relevant budgetary information had been shared with The Washington Post and Politico in May and June 2017, respectively. Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Aaron R. Jordan wrote the response to Kent Talbert, a senior policy adviser to DeVos and said there was "little" ground for prosecuting those leakers.
The reason for Jordan's described "little" policy grounds for taking leakers to court is pretty simple: budgetary data from the Education Department is not classified information, according to The Post. An individual can be prosecuted, according to Jordan's memo, if they leak "personally identifiable information, proprietary information from companies, and security information."
Additionally, Jordan gave DeVos a bit of advice: Leakers, too, have rights. In a footnote nestled under a pile of text on the fourth page of the report, Jordan wrote, "There may be times when what may be viewed as a 'leak' or an unauthorized release of non-public information could involve a protected disclosure by a Department employee."
So, he said, the Education Department "should take into consideration whistleblower rights and protections."
According to The Post, the Education Department filed a report under the title of "Final Management Information Report Unauthorized Release of Non-Public Information" and sought to understand whether or not it had the legal grounds to prosecute leakers in three different cases.
One claim pointed out that The Post published articles on President Trump's fiscal year "budget request for the [Education] Department" on May 17 and 18, 2017. The report noted that the information wasn't supposed to reach the public until May 23, 2017.
The second case that the report highlighted involved Politico. The report, according to The Post, said, "Politico published an article indicating the Department’s intention to delay the effective date of the borrower defense regulations published the prior November." It took notice of Politico's description of the case and said that the website published the article after receiving "internal" documents from within the department.
Finally, the third case that the report mentioned focused on the release of the Education Document known as "Assistance to States for the Education of Children with Disabilities: Preschool Grants for Children." The department said that it was prematurely released as the document was still under "deliberation and review."
In order to reduce the releasing of internal information, Jordan said that the department could draft an "interim policy" that would clearly define which documents could and could not be released to the public. He also said that employees could be trained to remember which "controlled unclassified information" was not to be given out of the department. This kind of formal training, per Jordan, could be introduced "once again" every two years to keep Education Department employees updated.
DeVos' focus on whistleblowers isn't out of the ordinary when it comes to Donald Trump's administration. Her colleague Attorney General Jeff Sessions had aggressive comments on the matter in August 2017. Sessions said that the Justice Department would be tough on whistleblowers and added that "this culture of leaking must stop." Additionally, according to former New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza in last July, previous White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci told him that he wanted to "f*cking kill all the leakers." The president himself isn't the happiest about people who release federal information to the public. In February 2017, Trump called such people "low-life leakers."
Ironically enough, the Wall Street Journal reported that intelligence agency members keep information from Trump as "they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter."