Calling for an end to what he characterized as the nation's “culture of leaks,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday said the Justice Department would crack down on leakers, giving top priority to unauthorized disclosure investigations, which he said have tripled since January, prompting the creation of a new counterintelligence unit.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and newly confirmed FBI Director Christopher Wray will “oversee all classified leak investigations and actively monitor the progress of each and every case," Sessions said. “The Department will not hesitate to bring lawful and appropriate criminal charges against those who abuse the nation's trust."
Persistent leaks from the White House and intelligence agencies ever since Donald Trump took office have repeatedly irked, frustrated and embarrassed the Trump administration, with the president publicly excoriating Sessions for not taking stronger action to put an end to the steady unauthorized flow of information making its way public.
The crackdown comes just a day after the Washington Post released transcripts of Donald Trump's initial phone calls with other world leaders -- Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Enrique Peña Nieto, president of Mexico.
"I want the attorney general to be much tougher," Trump said last week in what was widely seen as a preface to possibly firing Sessions, who raised the president's hackles by recusing himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election and potential collusion between members of the president's campaign team and Russia. "I want the leaks from intelligence agencies, which are leaking like rarely have they ever leaked before, at a very important level. These are intelligence agencies we cannot have that happen."
On Friday, Sessions took a tougher stance, vowing to crack down on “rogue [players] with security clearance” whom he believes “sell out our nation” by funneling classified information onto the public stage.
Noting that he “strongly” agreed with the president in condemning a “staggering number of leaks,” Sessions said, "I have this warning for would-be leakers: Don't do it."
The attorney general also levied harsh words at the press, which he said could not continue to “place lives at risk with impunity.” Claiming to “respect the important role that the press has,” Sessions said “it is not unlimited."
He called for balancing the press' role "with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in our intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law abiding Americans."
New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman immediately tweeted that the crackdown was “ A way for Sessions to demonstrate loyalty/purpose to Trump - increase the leak hunts/blame the press.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange assailed the initiative and Sessions' words, noting that transparency takes the teeth out of unauthorized disclosures. “AG Sessions today stated ‘This culture of leaking must stop,'. No the culture of secrecy must stop. Tell the public 1st and leaks do nothing,” he tweeted, adding, “AG Sessions today stated ‘This culture of leaking must stop,' but complaining about the public knowing the truth will get you nowhere.”