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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 12th, 2013
10:41 AM ET

Analysis: Should reporters be prosecuted?

Details continue to unfold about Edward Snowden, the man who shook the U.S. intelligence community by leaking details of secret surveillance programs. Snowden is believed to be staying in a "safe house," the British newspaper that first broke the story reported Wednesday.

Attention is now focused on the journalist, Glenn Greenwald, who works for The Guardian newspaper. Republican Congressman of New York Peter King told CNN's Anderson Cooper Tuesday that he thinks the journalist should be prosecuted.

"If they willingly knew this was classified information, I think actions should be taken, especially on something of this magnitude," said King.

"I think something on this magnitude, there is an obligation, both moral and also legal, I believe, against a reporter disclosing something which would so severely compromise national security," said King.

In response, Greenwald tweeted, "Is it true, as I was just told, that Peter King on CNN called for criminal prosecution of journalists reporting the NSA stories?"

The U.S. government has been at odds with journalists of late, with recent revelations that the Justice Department scrutinized reporters around a high-profile national security leak investigation, acquiring subpoenas for Associated Press phone records, and also subpoenaed phone records of Fox News reporter James Rosen.

But it is unlikely that charges will be brought against Greenwald.

The Obama Justice Department has shown a willingness to go after leakers more aggressively than previous presidents, using the Espionage Act more times than all other presidents combined to pursue them. They have also named journalists, specifically Rosen, as criminal co-conspirators.

But they have not prosecuted any of these journalists, and it is unlikely they would prosecute Greenwald, or anyone else, because it creates a slippery slope - would they then go back and prosecute anybody who published any of the WikiLeaks? Would they prosecute any journalist who publishes any national security story? It creates too many problems.

Greenwald also lives in Brazil, and writes for a British newspaper.

One of the points of contention is the damage done to national security. The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC Saturday that the recent wave of leaks has done "huge, grave damage ... to our intelligence gathering capabilities."

Greenwald brushed off Clapper's assertion on CNN's "The Lead" Monday, saying, "I defy anybody ... to go and look at what it is we published over the last week and describe how any of that could have harmed national security."

"Terrorists already know that the U.S. government tries to surveill their communications. Nothing that we revealed helps, quote-unquote, the terrorists," said Greenwald. "All we did was tell our fellow citizens in the United States, and around the world, the extent and capabilities of how vast the surveillance state is, and the reason why it needs scrutiny and accountability."

Obama administration officials strongly dispute that assertion, saying that by revealing how wide this dragnet is of both internet and telephone records, journalists are revealing secrets to would-be terrorists.

But as of now, there is no evidence of the administration's claims, and they are still doing an assessment of the national security leak, and what damage it did.

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