Jeff Sessions: Justice Department ‘Reviewing Policies’ to Subpoena Media in Leak Probes

Jeff Sessions
AP/REX/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the Justice Department is “reviewing policies” having to do with issuing subpoenas to media outlets that published leaked information.

“One of the things we are doing is reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas,” Sessions said at a press conference on Friday, although he took no questions. “We respect the role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity.”

“We must balance their 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.”

Sessions decried the “culture of leaking,” which has plagued every recent administration, but seems especially pronounced since President Donald Trump took office six months ago.

Just yesterday, The Washington Post published leaked transcripts of calls that Trump had with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Sessions said that the Justice Department has increased resources devoted to leak investigations, and he said the number of ongoing probes have now tripled.

The Justice Department issued an updated set of guidelines for issuing media subpoenas in 2015. They require that, in most cases, the attorney general would have to approve subpoenas and warrants to obtain reporters’ materials, and it removed a reference to “ordinary” news gathering activities that news organizations felt was too broad in scope.

The guidelines were revised after the phone records of Associated Press reporters were seized in 2013 during an investigation of national security leaks, as well as a search warrant that was issued to Fox News’ James Rosen to obtain access to his emails. After an outcry, then-Attorney General Eric Holder formed a committee that included members of the news media to come up with a new set of policies.

Chuck Todd, the host of NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” tweeted that if “DoJ media source threat is real (I assume it’s not; just a show presser to please WH) then I look forward to ignoring that subpoena.”

He later added that “Ill say it again: the best way to prevent leaks for ANY org? Be a leader that inspires loyalty and cut out the staff infighting….The worst way to stop leaks: threats.”

Karen Kaiser, the general counsel of the Associated Press, said that they “sincerely hope the administration continues to acknowledge and preserve the long-standing role of a free press and its importance in our democracy, and recognizes the critical balancing of interests struck in these guidelines.”

Theodore Boutrous, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, called Sessions’ comments “disturbing.”

Boutrous said that Justice Department restraint and adhering to its guidelines have been important because the case law coming out of federal courts remains unsettled, and the uncertainty can create a “chilling effect for journalists.” Although a number of circuits have recognized a journalistic privilege, it has been much more difficult to fight off a warrant or subpoena coming from a grand jury investigation, he said.

“We have got the president publicly sicking the attorney general on journalists, and the attorney general attempting to respond,” Boutrous said. “I don’t think this is something that should be discounted. Everyone should take it very seriously.”

In 2005, Boutrous represented Matthew Cooper, the Time magazine reporter who was threatened with contempt of court for refusing to testify before a grand jury conducting the Valerie Plame leak investigation. He later did after his source freed him of his commitment of confidentiality.

First Amendment groups were quick to express concern over Sessions’ remarks.

“Our founders understood that democracy depends on an informed citizenry, and leaders can’t be trusted to disclose vital information that reflects poorly on themselves,” said Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “These first months of the Trump administration dramatically illustrate that point. Can anyone seriously argue that our country would be better off if the public received all of its information through official channels alone?”

David Boardman, chairman of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said that “what the attorney general is suggesting is a dangerous threat to the freedom of the American people to know and understand what their leaders are doing, and why.”

Others also took issue with Sessions’ characterization of the publication of leaked information as “putting lives at risk.”

Bruce Brown, who is the executive director of the Reporters Committee, said that news organizations “have a long history of handling this information in a responsible way, working with government officials to evaluate potential harms, and taking steps to mitigate any damage when there is an overwhelming public interest in revealing it.”

 

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  1. Frank says:

    Omg. It’s stolen information. There is no law protecting the press that allows the press to publish stolen information.
    That’s called colluding in a felony act.

    If it’s an illegal leak it’s illegal to publish, repeat, or print. Take down the wapo.
    7,000 more retail stores about to close because of amazon bribes and blackmailing prices and amazon(wapo) fakes doing something like a phony job fair !!!!!!!!
    Where’s that story.
    Where’s the story about illegal leaks being published and not prosecuting the publisher (wapo/amazon).
    If It’s illegal to leak and illegal to print/ publish/repeat. Prosecute THAT !!!!!!

  2. TeriLee Huff says:

    Sessions is a puppet for Trump and this whole matter is a cover up for them, not America or the people’s safety, it is to protect them by threatening anyone who may let the facts of what’s really going on. All of this at the taxpayers expense, while they cut EPA, healthcare, education, etc.

  3. Steve Barr says:

    Why doesn’t the little Klansman clean his own house . He should have been charged with perjury when he lied under oath . But lying is par for the course with this administration. .

  4. Bill B. says:

    Yeah, shut down the media and keep us in the dark except for what the delusional, paranoid demagogue wants us to hear. This sounds familiar.

    • Sad says:

      There’s plenty to hear however the media lost and refuses to report anything but hate.
      The publishers must have lost billions betting on a loser.

  5. cadavra says:

    The only leaks Trump really cares about are the ones he got from the Russian hookers.

  6. Timely Comment says:

    I say, I say, Trump’s AG gonna get things done, son!

    J. Beauregard Sessions is gonna follow his President shepard faithfully as that type of Republicans he represents— bless his political heart!

  7. Bill B. says:

    These are only considered leaks because this administration wants to to keep so much secret, so much hidden. At one time, not that long ago, this was just information about what was going on in our White House and our government.

  8. DOJ — more likely, just Sessions and a certain cadre — should get their subpoenas only with conclusive, hard, inarguable evidence that the news reports or leaks of these reports are fake and harmful to Americans as a whole. I don’t imagine that threshold being approached. There are amendments to prevent such events. Good luck fighting the pro-media lawyers who would line up around the Beltway to work pro bono.
    This really is an attempt at another witch hunt, a legal basis to find the moles and plug the holes. Holes that this administration has itself created or spurred by negativity, character assassination, abysmal public relations, ignorance or flouting of the issues, and so on. The “culture of leaks” may exist, but the irony is like a BLINKING RED NEON SIGN vis a vis how Mr. T, his campaign, the RNC, Fox, etc. et al cheered the hack of HRC’s alleged emails and how they might light up the media sky. As such, Sessions is little more than a gas bag of conjecture and hypocrisy. And anyway, any leaks that reverse or undo any cover up of collusion, wrongdoing, secret meetings and other shenanigans are a form of public service. As they said on the Titanic: “More leaks!”
    He’s just pissed because he has to see it in print, on line and TV every damned day. Too bad, Beauregard, it’s our government, you work for us, and we have every right to know how fouled up you guys are.

  9. RQ says:

    Want to protect your national security and the lives of those who serve in your intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law abiding Americans? Tell your dummy-in-chief to SHUT UP!

    • Kaboom! says:

      This was happening under the Obama administration also, just more hushed up by the media. So Obama must have been a dummy-in-chief also according to you.

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