Ses­sions crank­ing up in­ves­ti­ga­tions of leaks

Dis­clos­ing clas­si­fied ma­te­rial is tar­geted by at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - Char­lie Sav­age and Eileen Sul­li­van

The U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral said he would file charges against peo­ple dis­clos­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

At­tor­ney WASH­ING­TON — Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions an­nounced Fri­day that the Jus­tice Depart­ment was pur­su­ing three times as many leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions as were open at the end of the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, a sig­nif­i­cant devo­tion of law en­force­ment re­sources to hunt down the sources of unau­tho­rized dis­clo­sures of in­for­ma­tion that have plagued the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Ses­sions vowed that the Jus­tice Depart­ment would not hes­i­tate to bring crim­i­nal charges against peo­ple who had leaked clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion. He also an­nounced that the FBI had cre­ated a new coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence unit to man­age the cases.

“I strongly agree with the pres­i­dent and con­demn in the strong­est terms the stag­ger­ing num­ber of leaks un­der­min­ing the abil­ity of our gov­ern­ment to pro­tect this coun­try,” he said.

The an­nounce­ment by Ses­sions comes 10 days af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pub­licly ac­cused his at­tor­ney gen­eral of be­ing “very” weak on pur­su­ing leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Ses­sions also said he had opened a re­view of Jus­tice Depart­ment rules gov­ern­ing when in­ves­ti­ga­tors may is­sue sub­poe­nas re­lated to the news me­dia and leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“We re­spect the im­por­tant role that the press plays and will give them re­spect, but it is not un­lim­ited,” he said. “They can­not place lives at risk with im­punity.”

The news con­fer­ence came against the back­drop of re­peated pres­sure by Trump, in pub­lic and in pri­vate, for the Jus­tice Depart­ment and the FBI to search for peo­ple in­side the gov­ern­ment who have been telling re­porters what was hap­pen­ing be­hind closed doors.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment de­clined to dis­close spe­cific fig­ures for the num­ber of open in­ves­ti­ga­tions it is now pur­su­ing.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion over­saw a crack­down on peo­ple who talked to re­porters about gov­ern­ment se­crets with­out au­tho­riza­tion, bring­ing more leak-re­lated crim­i­nal cases than all pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents com­bined. But Trump has sug­gested an even harder line.

In Fe­bru­ary, Trump told then-FBI Direc­tor James Comey that the bu­reau should con­sider pros­e­cut­ing re­porters for pub­lish­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion, ac­cord­ing to one of Comey’s as­so­ci­ates.

Ses­sions on Fri­day did not re­spond to a ques­tion about whether such a step, which would raise First Amend­ment is­sues, was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

The depart­ment’s rules re­quire in­ves­ti­ga­tors to ex­haust all other ways to ob­tain the in­for­ma­tion they are seek­ing be­fore sub­poe­naing jour­nal­ists for notes or tes­ti­mony that could force them to help in­ves­ti­ga­tors iden­tify their con­fi­den­tial sources.

In 2013, af­ter a back­lash in Congress and the news me­dia over ag­gres­sive tac­tics to go af­ter re­porters’ in­for­ma­tion in leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions, then-At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder de­cided to re­vise those rules to tighten lim­its on when the gov­ern­ment is al­lowed to sub­poena tele­phone com­pa­nies for logs of a re­porter’s phone calls, which could re­veal their con­fi­den­tial sources.

The changes made it harder for law en­force­ment of­fi­cials to ob­tain such logs with­out pro­vid­ing ad­vance no­tice and giv­ing news or­ga­ni­za­tions a chance to con­test the re­quest in court.

Ses­sions’ deputy, Rod Rosen­stein, said the re­view of the guide­lines had just be­gun and it was not clear what, if any­thing, would be changed.

Ses­sions was joined in the news con­fer­ence by Dan Coats, the direc­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence.

The two are co-chair­men of an in­sider threat task force first es­tab­lished by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2011 af­ter Chelsea Manning’s leak of hun­dreds of thou­sands of diplo­matic and mil­i­tary files to Wik­iLeaks.

Coats threat­ened to ad­min­is­tra­tively dis­ci­pline peo­ple sus­pected of leak­ing, apart from any prose­cu­tion.

ZACH GIB­SON / NEW YORK TIMES

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions speaks Fri­day about unau­tho­rized dis­clo­sures dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the Jus­tice Depart­ment. Ses­sions an­nounced the FBI had cre­ated a new coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence unit to man­age cases in­volv­ing leaks.

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