WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh said today he would not prosecute reporters who obtain news leaks about criminal investigations but would charge federal officials who are their sources.
Thornburgh said a new policy of prosecuting officials who leak details of criminal investigations for theft of government property does not include charging reporters with aiding and abetting or receiving such information.
"The statute clearly calls for prosecution of those involved in misusing sensitive information that comes to them in an official capacity," he said.
"Previous policy was not to use that authority. We have changed that because of reasons I've stated more often than you want to hear," the attorney general said at a news conference.
Accurate leaks "have a tendency to compromise ongoing investigations," he said. "If they are inaccurate, they have a tendency to unjustifiably smear the reputations of persons who are the subject of the leak."
The revision of the department's 11-year-old policy, intended to protect whistle-blowers and reporters from prosecution, was announced Wednesday in testimony submitted to Congress.
News reporters might be questioned about their sources in a grand jury, under the policy, if the attorney general approves the subpoena. Attorneys general historically have been reluctant to subpoena reporters--often the only source of information about news leaks.