WASHINGTON • United States Attorney-General Jeff Sessions has said four people have been charged so far over the leak of confidential information, amid a crackdown on “the culture of leaking” that has angered President Donald Trump.
Offering the first public confirmation of the breadth of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) efforts to crack down on unauthorised disclosures of sensitive information, Mr Sessions told reporters that the number of active leak investigations this year has tripled compared with the tally before Mr Trump took office.
Mr Sessions made the announcement yesterday at a long anticipated news conference with his deputy, Mr Rod Rosenstein, as well as director of national intelligence Daniel Coats and National Counter-intelligence and Security Centre director William Evanina.
No representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which typically investigates leak cases, appeared on stage with the men.
Mr Sessions said that in the first six months of this year, the DOJ had received nearly as many criminal referrals involving unauthorised disclosures of classified information than it had received in the past three years combined.
Though he did not say if it resulted in a criminal referral, Mr Sessions cited a recent disclosure to The Washington Post of transcripts of Mr Trump’s conversations with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and another with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The A-G said prosecutors had charged four people with unauthorised disclosures of classified information or concealing contacts with foreign officers. It was not immediately clear which prosecutions he was referring to.
So far, the DOJ under Mr Sessions has publicly announced charges in just one leak case. Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old government contractor, was charged in June with mishandling classified information after the authorities said she gave a top-secret National Security Agency document to a news organisation.
Yesterday, Mr Sessions said he was devoting more resources to stamping out leaks – directing Mr Rosenstein and FBI director Christopher Wray to actively monitor every investigation, instructing the National Security Division and US attorneys to prioritise such cases and creating a new counter-intelligence unit in the FBI to manage the work.
“This culture of leaking must stop,” Mr Sessions said.
Mr Trump has repeatedly voiced anger over a steady stream of leaks to the media about him and his administration since he took office in January. Some have been related to probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, while others have concerned infighting in the White House.
Mr Trump has complained that former FBI director James Comey’s decision to engineer a leak of information about a conversation he had with the President was “illegal”, when legal analysts say that is not likely the case.
Mr Comey has conceded publicly that he told a friend to give a reporter information about his recollection of the President’s request that he shut down the bureau’s probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. But he said he did not share classified material.
Leak cases are difficult to prove and prosecute, and they almost always come with political controversy, especially when the leaks involve providing information to reporters that is arguably in the public interest. Mr Sessions said yesterday that he is reviewing the DOJ’s policy on issuing subpoenas to reporters.
WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS