Get the plumbers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

On Fri­day, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions an­nounced that a ma­jor crack­down on fed­eral gov­ern­ment leak­ing is un­der way—and un­der­scored his se­ri­ous­ness by stand­ing along­side Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Dan Coats. Ses­sions said the Jus­tice Depart­ment has “more than tripled” the num­ber of leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had open. Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, of course, was far more ag­gres­sive than all oth­ers in tar­get­ing leaks it saw as harm­ing na­tional se­cu­rity.

Ses­sions’ re­sponse to what he called a “stag­ger­ing num­ber of leaks” needs to be con­sid­ered thought­fully, not re­flex­ively trashed or de­fended. A day ear­lier, the Washington Post had pub­lished tran­scripts of Pres­i­dent Trump’s phone calls in Jan­uary with Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto and Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull. In May, The In­ter­cept posted a tran­script of an April call be­tween Trump and Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte. Such leaks have no prece­dent, and the White House is right to find them alarm­ing.

But given that Trump seems fu­ri­ous over all leaks, there are rea­sons to worry that he’ll urge Ses­sions to sub­poena re­porters over sto­ries with leaks that are merely em­bar­rass­ing to the White House. That would be an abuse of power—not just an at­tempt to find leak­ers but to in­tim­i­date jour­nal­ists.

With his Rus­sian probe re­cusal, Ses­sions has—to some de­gree—shown spine in his deal­ings with Trump. He may need to show more go­ing for­ward.

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