The number of leak investigations has exploded exponentially under A.G. Sessions, up to 27 from 3 since he took over the Justice Department.
Appearing this weekend on the Fox network, Sessions told the host of “Sunday Morning Futures,” Maria Bartiromo, “we’re going after this aggressively. I am directing it personally.”
Sessions pointed to the case of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was given the boot after “lying about his contact with Russians.”
Leaks to the press exposed classified details of Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak which is a crime. “That is a violation of the law, to leak classified documents and it is being investigated.”
At the time it happened, the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, called the leak “very, very, damaging.”
After that, changes were made to limit what items White House staffers have access to, and “chief among the changes was limiting the access of the president’s aides, so they had information relevant only to their own policy portfolios or roles.”
Since August, the Attorney general has been aggressive and that has D.C. newsrooms nervous.
One prosecution is already underway. N.S.A. linguist Reality Winner was arrested in June, after stuffing a sensitive document down her pantyhose and leaking it to the Intercept.
The Washington Post’s Marty Baron thinks the prosecution is “an effort to try to intimidate the press from doing its job” but the head of the Justice Department says that with leaking at “epidemic proportions” something has to be done.
“It cannot be allowed to continue and we will do our best effort to make sure that it does not continue.”
Sessions says that the Post may even be involved in one or more of the 27 ongoing investigations. If so, he would prefer they found out about it from a search warrant or subpoena, rather than “an actual leak about the leak investigation.”
Last year, reporters anonymously complained that “the leak hunts are getting very aggressive” and “the climate of fear surrounding the Russia investigations is off the charts.”
President Trump told a story to his advisors while discussing his new administration’s goals for Afganistan. “The president made an analogy to a restaurant that he goes to,” a senior White House official relates.
“He said that the guys who owned it hired some big-name consultants, told them what to do, renovated it and it basically was a flop. ‘All they needed to do was ask the waiters.’ His point was, sometimes when you really want to know what to do, you don’t go to the senior guys with the high price tags, you ask the people who are closest to the problem.”
Two weeks later, the headlines were blaring, “Trump compared Afghanistan War to 21 Club Renovation,” and “Somebody leaked that anecdote to make him look bad.”
Details of a phone call between President Trump and Malcolm Turnbull who is the Prime Minister of Australia got leaked by the post. A few weeks later, they released a transcript of the call, along with another call the President made with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
“Those two were bad in that these are documents that are classified,” the senior White House official confirms. “They are deliberative documents that show the president in direct deliberation or negotiation with foreign leaders and I don’t think that had ever happened before.”
There would be even more leak investigations except before one gets started, it needs to be clear that the leak was intentional, not an accident.
“Let’s say you’re in a meeting with 10 or 12 people, and somebody in that meeting goes and tells one of their senior colleagues what happened because they think it’s important that they know, and that senior colleague tells somebody else who happens to tell it to a reporter,” one official explained.
“That’s a leak, in that it was information that was not contained where it should have been, but it wasn’t intentional. Stuff just got out because people just didn’t take as much care as they should have.”
Sessions has been taking a lot of heat, especially from President Trump, for recusing himself from the Russia inquiry. His decision led directly to the appointment of Robert Mueller instead.
At the time Mueller was appointed, the Republican former FBI director appeared to be free from bias and controversy.
We since learned that the “grand inquisitor” himself is a member of the Hillary Clinton fan club. Despite the criticism, Sessions insists he is determined to set an example.
“You can’t ask other members of the department to follow the law and follow the rules if the attorney general themselves refuses to do so.”
“I believe I did the right thing, the only thing I could do,” Sessions declares. “I participated in this campaign and as such under explicit regulations of the Department of Justice, no one can participate in the investigation of a campaign in which they were an active participant.”
“We are going to restore the rule of law. We are going to restore propriety and how things are managed.”