Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy on Thursday criticized White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ suggestions that former FBI Director James Comey may have broken the law, telling Fox News that “alleging criminal violations is very serious, which is why I don’t do it.”
Sanders sparked controversy on Tuesday when she said the Justice Department “should certainly look at” prosecuting Comey, whom she accused of leaking “privileged information” when he gave notes memorializing one of his conversations with the president to a friend to give to the press.
A White House official told Business Insider on Tuesday that “we don’t know” whether the information in the memo Comey gave to his friend was classified. (The friend, Daniel Richman, has insisted it wasn’t.) But Sanders doubled down on Wednesday, alleging that “leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case” was illegal “regardless of classification.”
“He claims they were private property, but they clearly followed the protocol of an official FBI document,” Sanders said. “Leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case, regardless of classification, violates federal laws, including the Privacy Act, a standard FBI employment agreement, and a nondisclosure agreement all FBI employees must sign. I think that’s pretty clean, and clear, that that would be a violation.”
Gowdy told Fox News on Thursday that “press secretaries don’t get to make that call.”
“That’s an executive branch function,” Gowdy said. “After a investigation, a charging decision is made by a career prosecutor. So if you have evidence of a crime, instead of sharing it with a gaggle of reporters, share it with the people who can actually do something about it.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, told Business Insider on Wednesday that Sanders’ comments were not as straightforward as they seemed.
“It is very hard for me to see what the Privacy Act has to do with the memos written by Comey,” Mariotti said. “The other two things she mentioned were the FBI standard employment agreement and nondisclosure agreement. Those are contracts, not laws. Could they sue Comey for breach of contract? Maybe – but it would be a suit for money damages, not an FBI criminal investigation.”
Asked what she would “like to see happen,” Sanders said it was “not up for me to decide.”
“The Department of Justice has to look into any allegations of whether something is illegal or not,” she added.