The Justice Department has assigned two new prosecutors to investigate an FBI agent's leaks of grand jury information to journalists. The Department also filed a sealed 3-page update on the case with a federal judge after the judge threatened to replace the government lawyers with a private prosecutor.
The Justice Department's most recent filing in the case, dated June 15, is signed by James I. Pearce and Edward P. Sullivan, trial attorneys in the public integrity section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. The entire second page and two-thirds of the first page is redacted. The letter, submitted to Judge P. Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York, promises a further update "on or before September 14, 2018."
Mr. Pearce and Mr. Sullivan replace Jonathan Kravis and Nicholas Connor, who had signed the earlier quarterly reports to Judge Castel. At least one of those reports was so brief and lacking in substance that the judge rejected them as unacceptable. An April 2, 2018 order from Judge Castel noted that it had been more than a year since he initially asked for quarterly updates on the case, and said that "where, as here, the conduct of persons within the executive branch of government is at issue it may be a prudent exercise of the Court's inherent power to appoint a private prosecutor."
FBI leaks to the press have been in the headlines recently after a report by the Justice Department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, about the bureau's actions during the 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Horowitz identified what his report called "a culture of unauthorized media contacts" at the FBI and identified "instances where FBI employees improperly received benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events."
The case before Judge Castel involves a supervisory special agent of the FBI, David Chaves. The government conceded that Chaves communicated with reporters from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times about an investigation into "insider trading" that eventually led to a conviction of William T. Walters. Mr. Chaves has since retired from the bureau.
The Times and the Journal haven't paid much attention to the story, but National Review's Andrew McCarthy recently devoted a column to an extensive exploration of it.
Judge Castel has been admirably persistent in pressing for accountability on the topic of grand jury leaks, noting that they are a kind of contempt of court that undermines the integrity of the judicial process. There's a public interest involved as well, in making sure that the FBI and the press don't secretly conspire to smear the reputations of innocent people or to deny anyone their Fifth Amendment due process rights. Here's hoping that Judge Castel will review the redacted document and, if he can do so without jeopardizing the investigation, make some of it public —not by leaking it to selected reporters, but in open court records.