- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

President Clinton has often been embarrassed by unauthorized leaks of classified information. Still, the president had the presence of mind last week to veto a bill that would have broadly criminalized these types of disclosures to the press.

It is a shame lawmakers failed to demonstrate the same sound judgment. Congress fecklessly rushed approval of the legislation through an unscheduled voice vote on Oct. 12 without holding a single hearing on the matter.

Under the bill that Congress approved, government officials, including lawmakers, would face up to three years in jail and a fine of $10,000 for releasing any "properly classified" information. This would put a chilling restriction on individuals' First Amendment right to free speech, since the government marks even the most arcane materials classified.

U.S. law already prohibits government employees from making public information that would compromise national security, exposes covert agents, aids foreign governments or disclose cryptographic information. And employees that leak information that doesn't affect national security face non-legal types of retaliation, such as job dismissal.

A number of lawmakers, including Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, have bitterly criticized the administration for not expressing any concerns about the provision in earlier negotiations, then turning around and vetoing the legislation. Clearly, the media's outcry over the gag measure held sway at the White House. Executives from CNN, The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Newspaper Association of America all signed a letter calling on the president to veto the bill.

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