Sessions vows review of ‘media subpoenas’ amid ramped-up leak investigations
Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a warning Friday to members of the media, promising a review of the subpoena policy regarding leaks of classified information and characterizing the publication of such materials as an action that places “lives at risk.”
He also warned that the federal government was “taking a stand” against the “culture of leaking” and took a moment during his prepared remarks to speak directly to “would-be leakers.”
“Don’t do it,” Sessions said.
“We respect the important role the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” the attorney general added. “We must balance the press’s role with protecting national security, the lives of those who serve in the intelligence community, the armed forces and all law-abiding Americans.”
The announcement came at a press conference featuring Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, in which they announced increased efforts to fight leaks of classified information. The attorney general reported that the Justice Department’s active leak investigations have “more than tripled,” “compared to the number at the end of the last administration.”
“Referrals for investigations of classified leaks to the Department of Justice from our intelligence agencies have exploded,” Sessions said.
Sessions referenced journalists as he detailed Friday the input he received on how best to combat the issue.
“I’ve listened to our career investigators, FBI agents and others, and of prosecutors about how to most successfully investigate and prosecute these matters,” Sessions said. “At their suggestion, one of the things we are doing is reviewing policies for effecting media subpoenas.”
For months, President Trump and key Republican lawmakers have been calling on the Justice Department to investigate leaks, asking the department to find out who disclosed to reporters classified information surrounding the U.S. government’s ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election.
In June, U.S. intelligence agencies formally asked the Department of Justice to investigate Russia-related “leaks” — referring as many as six leaks for investigation, according to sources familiar with the matter at the time.
The relationship between Trump and Sessions has been strained, in part due to the attorney general’s decision in March to recuse himself from matters related to last year’s election. In late July, the president tweeted that Sessions was “weak” on leak investigations.
Though the announcement on leaks had been first discussed weeks ago, it comes on the heels of the Washington Post story detailing transcripts of calls that Trump had with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier this year.
“No one is entitled to surreptitiously fight to advance battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information,” Sessions said after referencing the call logs released Thursday.
Top Republicans on Capitol Hill were furious over the leaked transcripts of the president’s phone calls with foreign leaders.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., encouraged the president Thursday to “fire every single person that’s had anything whatsoever to do with backbiting, undermining other people for their own benefit, or leaking.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the leaks a “disservice to the president” and seconded calls for the person responsible to be “punished.”
“Can you imagine being president of the United States, having a conversation with a foreign leader and that conversation being divulged to the media?” Graham said. “It’s just not fair to President Trump.”
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