Sessions vows to crack down on leakers—and sends a warning to reporters

Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed Friday to crack down on what he called a “staggering” number of leaks of classified information since the Trump administration took office. He promised to step up criminal investigations of suspected leakers, and to review department guidelines governing media subpoenas, raising the prospect of a renewed effort by federal prosecutors to compel reporters to reveal their confidential sources.

“We are taking a stand. This culture of leaking must stop,” Sessions said at Justice Department press conference where he was accompanied by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. While declining to discuss specific cases, he added: “it is important for the American people and those who might be thinking about leaking classified or sensitive information to know that criminals who would illegally use their access to sensitive information to endanger our national security are in fact being investigated and will be prosecuted.”

Sessions’ warning was immediately condemned by Freedom of the Press advocates. “It could mean a new wave of subpoenas, a new wave of court cases and it could spell trouble for the flow of information to the public,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The announcement comes after weeks of taunting by President Trump, most in the form of tweets, demanding that Sessions do more to end the leaks that have bedeviled his administration. It also comes the day after the Washington Post published one of the most high-profile leaks yet: transcripts of confidential phone calls President Trump had with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia shortly after his inauguration.

Without mentioning the president’s demands, Sessions indicated his anti-leak crackdown has already begun: The number of criminal referrals to the Justice Department has “exploded” since the president took office, he said, and the number of active criminal investigations by the department has “more than tripled” compared to the number pending since the end of the last administration.

Sessions did not say how many active cases were pending but noted that the department has already brought charges against a former NSA contractor for leaking a document about Russian cyberattacks to the Intercept. That indictment was announced two months ago.  

Sessions is hardly the first attorney general to…

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