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Report: Trump asked Comey about imprisoning reporters

Susan Walsh / AP

The NYT broke the story earlier this evening about President Trump asking Comey to drop the FBI's probe into Michael Flynn.

Here's the buried part of that story that will spawn a slew of investigations:

  • The scene: "Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office [the day after Flynn was fired] with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey."
  • The request: "Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey's associates."

Our thought bubble: Now would be a good time to learn if Trump really has tapes of his conversations or not.

On what legal grounds? Some have argued the Espionage Act can be used to punish media for publishing classified information. It has been used to prosecute 11 leakers (the majority of which occurred under Obama), none of whom have been journalists. Some argue the Supreme Court's 1971 decision that the government could not prevent the NYT from publishing classified documents (the Pentagon Papers) would protect journalists if prosecution questions surfaced today.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press weighed in: "The comments attributed to President Trump cross a dangerous line. But no president gets to jail journalists."

Put that in perspective: The countries that jail the most journalists, per the Committee to Protect Journalists: Turkey (81 imprisoned), China (38), Egypt (25), Eritrea (17), Ethiopia (16), Vietnam (8), Iran (8), Bahrain (7), Syria (7).

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