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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Press Conference Errors

During press conferences, presidents sometimes make mistakes.  President Obama may have made a couple yesterday.  At Politico, Edward-Isaac Dovere writes:
“If the concern was that somehow this was the only way to get this information out to the public, I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community for the first time,” Obama said. “What we’ve seen is information come out in drips and in drabs, sometimes coming out sideways. Once the information is out, the administration comes in, tries to correct the record. But by that time, it’s too late or we’ve moved on.”
Never mind that there’s an open question of whether Snowden, as a government contractor and not a direct government employee, would have been subject to those protections.
Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project told POLITICO that he’d asked the White House counsel to justify Obama’s assertion, first made in his interview with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show on Tuesday, and they said they’d decided to interpret the presidential policy directive on whistleblowers.
“As written, though, it only bans actions by government employees, leaving contractor whistleblowers vulnerable to retaliation initiated by the contractor itself,” Devine said. “The White House lawyer said they are looking for a way to enforce that scenario.”
Mike Levine reports at ABC:
"[W]e have informed, I think, the public that there's a sealed [Benghazi] indictment," the president responded. "It's sealed for a reason. But we are intent on capturing those who carried out this attack, and we're going to stay on it until we get them."

That marked the only official confirmation so far of a sealed indictment in the Benghazi case. For days, officials across the law enforcement and intelligence communities have refused to publicly confirm reports of a sealed indictment.

After all, according to federal law, [strictly speaking, the federal rules of criminal procedure] "no person may disclose [a sealed] indictment's existence," and a "knowing violation … may be punished as a contempt of court." Contempt of court carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, called the president's disclosure "crazy."

"Doesn't the law apply to the president too?" the official asked, and then jokingly added, "I guess he could pardon himself."

In fact, though, the president is effectively immune from breaking the law when it comes to a sealed indictment, according to a former prosecutor in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section

"The [president], by virtue of his position, can't violate any non-disclosure/confidentiality rule," said Peter Zeidenberg, now in private practice in Washington. "One of the perks of being the head of the executive branch: Nothing he says is technically a leak. If he does it, it is authorized."

However, Zeidenberg acknowledged "an argument could be made that a sealed matter can only be unsealed by a court."