Responding to the day's top story about fired FBI Director James Comey's testimony regarding his conversations with President Donald Trump, CNN analyst and Texas law professor Steve Vladeck posted a series of tweets eviscerating the president's argument that Comey's decision to leak his memos to the press was illegal.
"Did Comey's orchestration of the memo leak break the law? In a word, no," Vladeck wrote at the beginning of his thread. "Don't get caught up on whether it was a 'leak' or not; no statute prohibits 'leaks,' as such."
He went on to write that "unless memo includes 'information relating to the national defense' (& no indication it did), then leak doesn't violate Espionage Act."
Although Comey didn't break the law by leaking his memos on Trump, he may have, according to Vladeck, violated a "federal conversion-of-property statute" that leaves open the question about whether "'pure 'information' constitutes property." Although it could be applied legally, Vladeck said conviction under the conversion-of-property statue is unlikely because the memos had no monetary value.
Though "there may be ethical issues" with Comey's release of the memos, Vladeck said "any legal argument is a real stretch, here."
Read Vladeck's entire tweet thread below.
1. Did #Comey's orchestration of the memo leak break the law? In a word, no. In a few more words:— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck)1496944284.0
2. Don't get caught up on whether it was a "leak" or not; no statute prohibits "leaks," as such. Q. is whether _another_ statute applies...— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck)1496944321.0
3. Unless memo includes "information relating to the national defense" (& no indication it did), then leak doesn't violate Espionage Act.— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck)1496944382.0
4. Only real candidate is the federal conversion-of-property statute, 18 U.S.C. § 641: https://t.co/JqSwfUfatO. Did Comey "convert" memo?— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck)1496944470.0
5. In Morison, 4th Cir. noted it's an open Q whether "pure 'information' constitutes property ... under § 641": https://t.co/6kyNym3CAg— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck)1496944705.0
6. Leak prosecutions under § 641 have instead focused on value of the information being leaked. Here, the memo has _no_ pecuniary value.— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck)1496944753.0
7. So I don't think a § 641 prosecution would work either. Of course, he could still have been fired for doing it (that ship has sailed)...— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck)1496944860.0
8. ...and there may be ethical issues (which I'll leave to the ethics experts). But any legal argument is a real stretch, here. /end— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck)1496944888.0