Skip to content Skip to footer

Trump Demands Prison Sentence for Journalists Who Published Supreme Court Leak

Neither the leaker or the journalists who reported on the leaked documents violated a criminal statute.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a rally to support local candidates at the Mohegan Sun Arena on September 3, 2022, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Former President Donald Trump has called for the arrest of journalists who published a leaked Supreme Court draft decision on abortion rights last spring — despite the fact that their action was completely legal — in yet another attack on press freedom.

The Supreme Court’s draft opinion was leaked in May, just a few weeks before the Court was set to publicize its final decision, and laid out how conservative bloc justices were set to dismantle the abortion rights precedent established in Roe v. Wade half a century ago. Shortly after the leak, the Court opened an internal investigation into the matter, but it announced this week that it couldn’t discern who had leaked the documents.

Trump responded to that admission by suggesting that the Court force the journalists who reported on the leak to reveal their sources by threatening to imprison them if they don’t comply.

“Go to the reporter & ask him/her who it was. If not given the answer, put whoever in jail until the answer is given,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social website on Thursday.

The publisher and editor of the article should also face consequences, Trump said.

“Arrest the reporter, publisher, editor — you’ll get your answer fast. Stop playing games and wasting time!” he demanded.

Trump’s latest attack on the media is consistent with his fascistic comments and actions as president, a role in which he consistently targeted a free and independent press.

The Biden administration has condemned Trump’s comments.

“Calling for egregious abuses of power in order to suppress the Constitutional rights of reporters is an insult to the rule of law and undermines fundamental American values and traditions,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said. (Notably, the Biden administration itself has been less than stellar on issues of press freedom.)

It’s unclear why Trump believes that the publishers of the Supreme Court leak could be arrested, as legal protections for journalists typically allow them to publish such documents without facing retribution or challenges from the state, as long as the information isn’t deemed a threat to national security interests.

“A journalist can’t be punished for publishing info that was obtained illegally, as long as the journalist didn’t do anything illegal,” an explanation from Freedom Forum, a first amendment rights advocacy group, states. “The government has never prosecuted a journalist for publishing leaked information. If it tried, it’s likely they’d have to demonstrate ‘direct, immediate and irreparable harm’ caused by the publication.”

If the Supreme Court investigation had been successful, it’s possible it would have resulted in employment termination or other consequences for the leaker — but ultimately, there’s no federal statute that bars Supreme Court workers from leaking documents to journalists, unless they obtain the materials through a hack into Court computers or through other illicit means.

Trevor Timm, president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, lambasted Trump for suggesting that journalists and publishers should be imprisoned for not revealing their sources.

“Trump’s statement isn’t exactly surprising, given he’s been saying similar things on the campaign trail, but it is appalling,” Timm told The Independent.

“No president should be allowed to threaten reporters with jail in order to reveal their sources. … Even a former president, or someone running for the position, saying this can have a chilling effect” on the state of journalism, Timm added.

Countdown is on: We have 2 days to raise $28,000

Truthout has launched a necessary fundraising campaign to support our work. Can you support us right now?

Each day, our team is reporting deeply on complex political issues: revealing wrongdoing in our so-called justice system, tracking global attacks on human rights, unmasking the money behind right-wing movements, and more. Your tax-deductible donation at this time is critical, allowing us to do this core journalistic work.

As we face increasing political scrutiny and censorship for our reporting, Truthout relies heavily on individual donations at this time. Please give today if you can.