White House asks Justice to investigate State Department leak
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The White House in late March said it has asked the Department of Justice to investigate an apparent leak of a classified State Department memo to the Washington Times.
The request was still being assessed by the Justice Department’s criminal division in early April, according to John Russell, the Department’s press officer. The FBI refused to comment on a possible investigation.
At a news briefing in late March, White House press secretary Mike McCurry complained that a story in the Washington Times concerning a discussion between President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin was an “inaccurate portrayal.” The article, written by Bill Gertz, reported that Clinton and Yeltsin discussed managing certain issues between the two nations to avoid a negative effect on their respective bids for re-election.
McCurry said that the newspaper had probably obtained its information from a memo written by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.
“The Washington Times appears to be illegally in possession of a classified document,” McCurry said. “The provision of classified documents to nonauthorized sources is a violation of federal law, and it will be up to law enforcement officials to investigate any wrongdoing.”
In a later interview the same day with The Washington Post, McCurry said his comments at the briefing had been “inartful” and that the Clinton Administration did not believe the Washington Times acted illegally by receiving and publishing the document. McCurry told the Post that an investigation would focus on finding the government official who leaked the document.
According to the Washington Times, the Russian Foreign Ministry sent a note of protest to U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering in late March protesting “violations by the American side of the principle of confidentiality of diplomatic contacts.”
In May 1995, another Times article by Gertz that mentioned “negotiating papers” prompted President Clinton to issue a memorandum to members of his Cabinet warning that all leaks of national security information would be investigated by the Justice Department and prosecuted.