Jeff Sessions promises crackdown on leaks in the US

Justice department says it will review how journalists are subpoenaed after a wave of leaks since Trump took office.

    Jeff Sessions promises crackdown on leaks in the US
    Sessions said the DOJ has more than tripled the number of active leaks investigations [Alex Wong/AFP]

    US Attorney General Jeff Session has vowed to crack down on those who leak classified or sensitive national security information, as well as review the way journalists are subpoenaed.

    The announcement on Friday follows a torrent of damaging revelations to the media, following six months of political intrigue and open feuding within the White House.

    President Donald Trump has repeatedly fumed about "illegal leaks" and even lashed out publicly at Sessions last week for taking what he called a "very weak" position on the issue.

    THE LISTENING POST: Wiretaps, hacks and spin in Donald Trump's America

    Under pressure, and with some saying his job could be on the line, Sessions responded.

    "I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country," Sessions said.

    "We are taking a stand. This culture of leaking must stop."

    Rights groups say the public should be "concerned" about the announcement, calling it a "crackdown on democracy".

    "Every American should be concerned about the Trump administration's threat to step up its efforts against whistleblowers and journalists," Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said.

    The organisation also said on Twitter that a "crackdown on leaks is a crackdown on the free press and on democracy as a whole".

    Four people have already been charged with "unlawfully disclosing" classified material or concealing contacts with federal officers, Sessions said.

    He said the Department of Justice has more than tripled the number of active leaks investigations compared with the number pending when Trump's predecessor Barack Obama left office, and the number of referrals to the justice department for potential investigation of unauthorised disclosures had "exploded".

    Subpoenas for journalists

    The Obama administration's justice department brought more leaks cases than under all previous administrations combined and was often criticised for manoeuvres seen as needlessly aggressive and intrusive. 

    Trump-US media tensions hit all-time high

    Following consultation with media lawyers, the 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 Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, said on Friday that they were reviewing how the department conducts leak investigations and whether current regulations impose too many constraints on their work.

    "One of the things we are doing is reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas," Sessions said.

    "We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited."

    With Trump desperate to control the messages emanating from the White House, Sessions said he would bolster a task force created during Barack Obama's administration aimed at apprehending leakers.

    US intelligence community under scrutiny after media leaks

    "We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country," he said.

    Joining Sessions, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, issued his own tough warning to would-be leakers and described such revelations as betraying the American people.

    "If you improperly disclose classified information, we will find you," he said. "We will investigate you, we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."

    Most recently, the Washington Post on Thursday published leaked transcripts of phone conversations between Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

    The transcripts revealed the blunt tone Trump has taken when speaking to his counterparts in other countries.

    READ MORE: Trump declares media 'the enemy of the American people'

    Sessions expressed his anger over the revelations which apparently came from inside the White House.

    Disclosure of the transcripts rocked Washington, with politicians from across the political spectrum strongly denouncing the leaks of presidential conversations with world leaders.

    "Somebody needs to go to jail," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham stressed on Friday on Fox News.

    "You don't have the right if you work in the White House or you're a holdover from the Obama administration ... to take the law in your own hands," Graham said.

    He said the leaks were "hurting the presidency itself".

    THE LISTENING POST: The future of journalism under President Trump

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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