At a Thursday appearance at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said that New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet should have been imprisoned for the paper’s publishing of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns in October. From Politico:
“We had one of the top people at The New York Times come to Harvard University and say, ‘I’m willing to go to jail to get a copy of Donald Trump’s taxes so I can publish them.’ Dean Baquet came here and offered to go to jail — you’re telling me, he’s willing to commit a felony on a private citizen to post his taxes, and there isn’t enough scrutiny on the Trump campaign and his business dealings and his taxes?” Lewandowski asked.
“It’s egregious,” Lewandowski continued. “He should be in jail.”
At an appearance at Harvard in September, Baquet said that he’d be willing to risk jail time for publishing Trump’s returns. As the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers wrote in October, unauthorized disclosure of return information is, in fact, illegal under federal law and the laws of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut where the returns published by the Times were filed. But experts agree the Times was on fairly solid legal ground in publishing them:
After the Times published its story, the legal blog Concurring Opinions collected the views of 10 experts in First Amendment law, who concluded that the newspaper is likely on firm ground, so long as it did not participate in illegally accessing Trump’s tax documents.
Zittrain told me that “if the New York Times received the return information not from the government after it was filed but from a private citizen, such as one working for Trump and from Trump’s own records, criminal liability may be less clear, which could mean that ascertaining where the material didn’t come from is as important as where it did.”
The Times appears not to know who its source is; the tax documents were mailed anonymously.
Although it’s unclear what role Lewandowski will play in Trump’s circle moving forward, his comments are the latest sign that journalists should be wary of the incoming Trump administration. In October, Sandra Mims Rowe, chairwoman of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ board, issued a statement condemning Trump’s record of similar attacks on the press:
Throughout his campaign, Trump has routinely made vague proposals to limit basic elements of press and internet freedom. At a rally in February, Trump declared that if elected president he would “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” In September, Trump tweeted, “My lawyers want to sue the failing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent. I said no (for now), but they are watching. Really disgusting.”
While some have suggested that these statements are rhetorical, we take Trump at his word. His intent and his disregard for the constitutional free press principle are clear.
Lewandowski’s comments also come just days after Trump tweeted that protesters who burn the American flag should be jailed. As our Mark Joseph Stern wrote in response, “the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that flag-burning is a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.”
As Politico also reported Thursday, Harvard’s set of appearances from major figures of the 2016 campaign also saw CNN President Jeff Zucker come under fire during a Q&A for hiring Lewandowski while he was still being paid by the Trump campaign:
Zucker was also blasted by journalists when he tried to defend CNN’s decision to hire Lewandowski while he was still receiving severance from the campaign.
Lewandowski seized the microphone from the questioner, who broached the topic, in a bid to defend himself, allowing the student to finish asking it, but insisting he was adding value to the CNN airwaves.
Zucker said Lewandowski was a “good investment and decision,” as Lewandowski clapped and the rest of the room remained silent.