The Justice Department considers unauthorized disclosures a serious national security threat.
During his opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller thanked his team for conducting the investigation with fairness, independence and integrity. He pointedly noted that he continually stressed to his staff: “Our team would not leak or take other actions that could compromise the integrity of our work. All decisions were made based on the facts and the law.”
Reuters reported in March on the steps Mueller’s team took to prevent leaks. Before entering the office suite, everyone had to secure their phones in a locker outside. The workspace was designated a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, which must comply with strict requirements to prevent the unauthorized release of classified and sensitive information. Witnesses interviewed by the special counsel were picked up by staff and driven to the office, where they entered through a secure garage to minimize public attention. “The office’s location was not publicly revealed but was discovered by journalists. Still, it has not been widely publicized,” Reuters reported, noting that “Mueller’s team has asked media outlets not to publish the exact location for security purposes.”
The Justice Department takes leaks seriously. Its Strategic Plan for 2018-2022 notes that “Insiders can harm national security and betray the nation’s trust by selectively leaking classified information, sometimes mixed with disinformation, to manipulate the public and advance personal agendas.”
The special counsel’s team, which is part of the Justice Department, was subject to disciplinary action for any misconduct, including leaks, under federal regulations.
Nonetheless, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, questioned Mueller about leaks during his appearance before the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday afternoon. “I'm holding here in my hand a binder of 25 examples of leaks that occurred from the special counsel's office from those who associated with your work,” said Stewart. “They were designed to weaken or embarrass the president, every one.”
Talking Points Memo received and published a copy of the leaks Stewart alleged came from Mueller’s office. None of the leaks “were definitively sourced to Mueller’s office. In other words, plenty of people could have leaked these tidbits to the press, not only people on Mueller’s team,” the publication noted.
Robert Litt, former general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told Reuters that any leaks about the investigation appeared to have come from witnesses or their lawyers.
During his House testimony Mueller would not get into specifics about leaks, except to say, with regard to the leaked letter he sent to Attorney General William Barr on March 27 saying Barr’s remarks did not capture the essence of his report, “I do not believe we would be responsible for the leaks. I do believe we have done a good job in ensuring that no leaks occur.”
Mueller and his team stayed out of the public eye and avoided media interviews. The only time the team issued a statement was after BuzzFeed News reported that President Trump directed his former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his potential real estate dealings in Moscow. Special Counsel spokesman Peter Carr said the reporting was “not accurate.”
Despite much speculation from politicians and media pundits, there is no evidence to pin any of the leaks associated with the Mueller investigation on the special counsel’s office.