Ses­sions de­clares war on leaks, says probes have tripled this year

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Eric Tucker Getty Im­ages

The As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON» At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions pledged on Fri­day to rein in gov­ern­ment leaks that he said un­der­mine Amer­i­can se­cu­rity, tak­ing an ag­gres­sive pub­lic stand af­ter be­ing called weak on the mat­ter by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The na­tion’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial cited no cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tions in which dis­clo­sures of in­for­ma­tion had jeop­ar­dized the coun­try, but said the num­ber of crim­i­nal leak probes had more than tripled in the early months of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials also said they were re­view­ing guide­lines put in place to make it dif­fi­cult for the gov­ern­ment to sub­poena jour­nal­ists about their sources, and would not rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that a re­porter could be pros­e­cuted.

“No one is en­ti­tled to sur­rep­ti­tiously fight to ad­vance their bat­tles in the me­dia by re­veal­ing sen­si­tive gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion,” Ses­sions said in an an­nounce­ment that fol­lowed a se­ries of news re­ports this year on the Trump cam­paign and White House that have re­lied on clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion. “No gov­ern­ment can be ef­fec­tive when its lead­ers can­not dis­cuss sen­si­tive mat­ters in con­fi­dence or talk freely in con­fi­dence with for­eign lead­ers.”

Me­dia ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions con­demned the an­nounce­ment, with Bruce Brown, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Re­porters Com­mit­tee for Free­dom of the Press, say­ing the de­ci­sion to re­view ex­ist­ing guide­lines was “deeply trou­bling.”

Mean­while, a White House ad­viser raised the pos­si­bil­ity of lie de­tec­tor tests for the small num­ber of peo­ple in the West Wing and else­where with ac­cess to tran­scripts of Trump’s phone calls. The Wash­ing­ton Post on Thurs­day pub­lished tran­scripts of his con­ver­sa­tions with the lead­ers of Mex­ico and Aus­tralia.

Trump coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way told “Fox & Friends” that “it’s eas­ier to fig­ure out who’s leak­ing than the leak­ers may re­al­ize.” And might lie de­tec­tors be used? She said: “Well, they may, they may not.”

Trump’s out­bursts against me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions he de­rides as “fake news” have led to pre­dic­tions that his ad­min­is­tra­tion will more ag­gres­sively try to root out leak­ers, and the tim­ing of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s an­nounce­ment — one week af­ter the pres­i­dent com­plained on Twit­ter that Ses­sions had been weak on “in­tel leak­ers” — raised ques­tions about whether the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s ac­tion was aimed at quelling the anger of the man who ap­pointed him.

Ses­sions said in his re­marks that his depart­ment has more than tripled the num­ber of ac­tive leaks in­ves­ti­ga­tions com­pared with the num­ber pend­ing when for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama left of­fice, and the num­ber of re­fer­rals to the Jus­tice Depart­ment for po­ten­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion of unau­tho­rized dis­clo­sures had “ex­ploded.” The Jus­tice Depart­ment un­der Ses­sions is pros­e­cut­ing a con­trac­tor in Ge­or­gia ac­cused of leak­ing a clas­si­fied gov­ern­ment re­port to a me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“This na­tion must end this cul­ture of leaks. We will in­ves­ti­gate and seek to bring crim­i­nals to jus­tice. We will not al­low rogue anony­mous sources with se­cu­rity clear­ances to sell out our coun­try,” Ses­sions said in his re­marks.

Me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions also had an of­ten-tense re­la­tion­ship with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, whose Jus­tice Depart­ment brought more leaks cases than dur­ing all pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions com­bined. That in­cluded a se­cret sub­poena of phone records of As­so­ci­ated Press re­porters and edi­tors fol­low­ing a 2012 story about a foiled bomb plot.

Fol­low­ing con­sul­ta­tion with me­dia lawyers, the Jus­tice Depart­ment in 2015 re­vised its guide­lines for leak in­ves­ti­ga­tions to re­quire ad­di­tional lev­els of ap­proval be­fore a re­porter could be sub­poe­naed, in­clud­ing from the at­tor­ney gen­eral. But Ses­sions and Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein said Fri­day that they were re­view­ing whether cur­rent reg­u­la­tions im­pose too many hur­dles on their work.

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