President Barack Obama revealed for the first time the existence of a sealed indictment in the Benghazi terror attack, a move that would mean legal trouble for anyone other than the commander-in-chief.
During a presidential press conference on Friday, Obama was asked why justice has been slow in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“[W]e have informed, I think, the public that there’s a sealed indictment,” the president said. “It’s sealed for a reason. But we are intent on capturing those who carried out this attack, and we’re going to stay on it until we get them.”
While it was widely reported that the first “charges” in the Benghazi investigation had been filed, Obama’s comments marked the only official confirmation on record of a sealed indictment. Administration and intelligence officials have repeatedly refused to confirm reports of a sealed indictment.
There’s a reason no one has been willing to talk. Under federal law, “no person may disclose [a sealed] indictment’s existence,” and a “knowing violation … may be punished as a contempt of court,” ABC News reports.
It’s unclear whether Obama revealed the existence of a sealed indictment by accident, but the president is clear either way, according to Peter Zeidenberg, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section.
“The [president], by virtue of his position, can’t violate any non-disclosure/confidentiality rule,” he told ABC News. “One of the perks of being the head of the executive branch: Nothing he says is technically a leak. If he does it, it is authorized.”
However, “[A]n argument could be made that a sealed matter can only be unsealed by a court,” he added.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington and the DOJ both declined to comment when contacted by ABC News.
A White House official said the president was only “referencing widely reported information and was not asked about, nor did he comment on any specific indictment.”