Shades of the Watergate “plumbers”:
There is much to unpack in that headline (even without examining the possibility this is one more Administration attempted diversion from the accelerating Russiagate investigations.)
To help Sessions identify some leakers, a note on proximity will help. Because easily reachable for him are “John Barron” and “John Miller” (aka Donald J. Trump); and Devin Nunez (R-Ca 22nd District). You’ll recall that the former passed on classified Israeli intelligence and the latter leaked classified FISA court decisions.
[Editor’s note: kudos to Facts Do Matter @WilDonnelly for that gem.]
However, the mega-leaker of our time, WikiLeaks, doesn’t seem to be on the AG’s radar.
Of equal interest is the AG’s possible motivation and timing. Former Obama political counsel David Axelrod @davidaxelrod has asked, “Question: Is DOJ hunting leakers to ‘protect our country,’ as Sessions says, or to protect-and-assuage the @POTUS?”
(And one might ask to protect his own posterior?)
Who of us will forget that only about a week earlier President Trump tweeted that Sessions had taken a “VERY weak position on … Intel leakers”? Implication: Session’s job was hanging by a thread. But his friends and former colleagues in the Senate rose to his defense and seem to have found a safe harbor for him — at least temporarily.
Too, there is this incisive observation from Jeff Stein/Newsweek: “Only the FBI, which was left out of the Sessions press conference, is authorized to pursue criminal leaks investigation.”
Nevertheless, Sessions says he’s pulling out all the stops: “FBI has increased resources devoted to the leaks cases and created a new counterintelligence unit to manage these cases.”
Apparently the FBI’s work on Russiagate and other matters of national security will have to edge over a bit.
Just how many leaks might involve national security is open to question. Some veteran D.C. observers note that White House infighting and Capitol Hill gossiping may well represent a sizable portion of those leaks.
Too, there is this from Deputy Attorney General on Fox News on Sunday: “We’re after the leakers, not the journalists. We are after people who are committing crimes.” Which seems to overlook the fact that over the years journalists, protecting their sources, have risked — and in a few cases, borne — imprisonment rather than outing whistleblowers.
Now, at the risk of having buried the lede, two related important points:
Of course, national security is number one. But all leaks are clearly not created equal nor, for that matter, illegal. Some primarily serve mainly the leaker’s personal interest while others are sincerely provided in the public interest.
And so, not far behind the importance of national security — actually, often connected to it — is protection for First Amendment freedom of the press. Session’s Friday statement on that should give us pause. He said he has opened a review of Justice Department rules governing when investigators may issue subpoenas related to the news media and leak investigations.
Surely, last week’s leaked transcripts of Trump telephone conversations with leaders of Mexico and Australia should have been kept from public gaze (even though they provided insights into Trump priorities and character). A president’s phone conversations with international leaders should be privileged information. And The Espionage Act and other federal laws that criminalize unauthorized disclosures of sensitive national security information must not be trifled with.
However, distinctions are vital.
Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, responding to Sessions’ “leakers” news conference, may well have spoken for all responsible journalists — and, by extension, for national security:
“Sessions talked about putting lives at risk. We haven’t done that. What we’ve done is reveal the truth about what administration officials have said and done. In many instances, our factual stories have contradicted false statements they’ve made.”