At­tor­ney gen­eral’s crack­down on leak­ers may prove dif­fi­cult.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

Pres­i­dent Trump’s anger at his at­tor­ney gen­eral ap­pears to have blown over, with the pres­i­dent of­fer­ing a few kind words for At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions’ plan to crack down on what have been a se­ries of em­bar­rass­ing leaks for the White House.

“After many years of LEAKS go­ing on in Wash­ing­ton, it is great to see the A.G. tak­ing ac­tion! For Na­tional Se­cu­rity, the tougher the bet­ter!” the pres­i­dent tweeted over the week­end.

But if his­tory is any in­di­ca­tion, na­tional se­cu­rity and leak in­ves­ti­ga­tion ex­perts say the pres­i­dent might want to be care­ful what he wishes for.

“If you start try­ing to track down where it’s all orig­i­nat­ing from, you are go­ing to find peo­ple in your own cir­cle get­ting caught up in this,” said Bradley Moss, a lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in na­tional se­cu­rity mat­ters.

It was Pres­i­dent Obama’s “fa­vorite gen­eral” James “Hoss” Cartwright who was con­victed, and later par­doned, of mak­ing false state­ments to in­ves­ti­ga­tors prob­ing the leak of top-se­cret de­tails to jour­nal­ists about U.S. ef­forts to un­der­mine Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.

The Ge­orge W. Bush-era in­ves­ti­ga­tion into who outed Va­lerie Plame as a CIA of­fi­cer ul­ti­mately en­snared Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the for­mer chief of staff to Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney. While no one was ever ac­tu­ally charged with leak­ing Ms. Plame’s covert iden­tity to the me­dia, Libby was found guilty of ly­ing about his role in the leak and later had his sen­tence com­muted.

Prom­ises to crack down on trou­bling leaks are noth­ing new, but the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s goal of root­ing out leak­ers comes as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has suf­fered a flood of prob­lem­atic leaks, rang­ing from the disclosure of a clas­si­fied Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency doc­u­ment by a fed­eral con­trac­tor to the leak of en­tire clas­si­fied tran­scripts of Mr. Trump’s pri­vate phone con­ver­sa­tions with his coun­ter­parts in Aus­tralia and Mex­ico.

Mr. Ses­sions an­nounced that to ad­dress the “stag­ger­ing num­ber of leaks,” the Jus­tice Depart­ment has tripled the num­ber of ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions, es­tab­lished a new unit at the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion ded­i­cated to over­see­ing the probes, and un­der­taken a re­view of the DOJ’s cur­rent poli­cies af­fect­ing sub­poe­nas of the me­dia.

“We are tak­ing a stand. This cul­ture of leak­ing must stop,” said Mr. Ses­sions, speak­ing from the Jus­tice Depart­ment on Fri­day.

With­out pro­vid­ing sta­tis­tics, Mr. Ses­sions said the num­ber of crim­i­nal re­fer­rals for in­ves­ti­ga­tions of clas­si­fied leaks that the Jus­tice Depart­ment has re­ceived from in­tel­li­gence agen­cies in the first six months of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is equal to the num­ber of re­fer­rals the depart­ment re­ceived dur­ing the prior three years com­bined.

Ac­cord­ing to Jus­tice Depart­ment doc­u­ments ob­tained by Steven After­good, a gov­ern­ment se­crecy spe­cial­ist with the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists, the Jus­tice Depart­ment re­ceived an av­er­age of 39 “crimes re­ports” a year con­cern­ing unau­tho­rized dis­clo­sures of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion be­tween 2009 and 2016.

The num­ber of leak cases prose­cuted has his­tor­i­cally been much lower. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion brought more leak cases — at least eight pros­e­cu­tions — than all pre­de­ces­sors com­bined.

Whether leak pros­e­cu­tions, which are no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult, also rise un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will be the real test of how se­ri­ously the Jus­tice Depart­ment is tak­ing the threat, said Ron Hosko, a for­mer as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the FBI.

He said agents have been frus­trated in the past when prose­cu­tors opt not to bring leak charges in what could have been po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive cases.

“There have been ex­am­ples in the past when the FBI knows who the leaker was and the leaker was some­one par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful, per­haps on Capi­tol Hill, and the Jus­tice Depart­ment de­ter­mined they would de­cline pros­e­cu­tion,” Mr. Hosko said. “The proof of what is in the net is go­ing to have to be eval­u­ated six months from now.”

As part of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s crack­down, Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein said he in­tends to take a “fresh look” at poli­cies on the books re­gard­ing sub­poe­nas of re­porters. The re­view comes in re­sponse to is­sues raised by FBI agents and prose­cu­tors. Mr. Rosen­stein said Fri­day that he doesn’t know “what, if any, changes we will make” but he de­clined to pro­vide a de­fin­i­tive an­swer when asked whether pros­e­cut­ing re­porters would be off the ta­ble.

Un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder vowed not to jail jour­nal­ists. In 2015, after a dust-up with the press over the sub­poena of re­porters’ phone records, the Jus­tice Depart­ment also drafted guide­lines that made it more dif­fi­cult to pur­sue such records and re­quired high-level ap­proval within the depart­ment.

First Amend­ment ad­vo­cates re­acted with alarm to the pos­si­bil­ity the ad­min­is­tra­tion could be con­sid­er­ing changes to make it eas­ier to pros­e­cute jour­nal­ists or ob­tain their phone records or emails, with the Re­porters Com­mit­tee for Free­dom of the Press call­ing the re­view “deeply trou­bling.”

“The cur­rent guide­lines re­flect a great deal of good-faith dis­cus­sion be­tween the news me­dia and a wide range of in­ter­ests from within the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, in­clud­ing ca­reer prose­cu­tors and key non­po­lit­i­cal per­son­nel,” said Re­porters Com­mit­tee Chair­man David Board­man. “They care­fully bal­ance the need to en­force the law and pro­tect na­tional se­cu­rity with the value of a free press that can hold the gov­ern­ment ac­count­able to the peo­ple.”

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