In a very disturbing press conference last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested that the administration was looking to go after reporters who received information from government whistleblowers in an effort to stop the leaks that have plagued the White House.
Sessions said he was devoting more resources to stamping out unauthorized disclosures, directing Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray to actively monitor every investigation, instructing the department’s national security division and U.S. attorneys to prioritize such cases, and creating a new counterintelligence unit in the FBI to manage the work.
Sessions also said he was reviewing the Justice Department’s policy on issuing subpoenas to reporters.
“This culture of leaking must stop,” Sessions said.
This is very, very dangerous. As bad as the Obama administration was on whistleblowers, it never went after reporters for it, only after those who leaked information. Sessions, however, said that “one of the things we are doing is reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas. We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity.”
But this is the Trump administration, and you know damn well that they will define “placing lives at risk” as “doing something that makes Trump look bad.” As the National Review said in objecting to Sessions’ dark hint at jailing journalists, “Any negative info about an administration could be presented as ‘dangerous to national security.'” They went on to say:
On a logical level, I do understand the “national security” argument against leaks. Essentially, it’s the idea that things like the release of President Trump’s phone-call transcripts will make foreign leaders wary about having conversations with the United States, and that the wariness could lead to us missing out on intelligence information or negotiation opportunities. Is the “threat” concern valid? Sure, I think, to an extent . . . because it does make the administration’s job tougher. But it’s not so much a direct threat as it is a procedural one — and “potential procedural threat” would be a dangerously subjective standard to set for jailing American journalists. Think about it: Technically, any negative information about an administration could be twisted into qualifying as a procedural threat to our national security, if the standard is that the publication of that information makes the president’s job harder.
But you know Trump will view it that way. As he has whined and complained about the leaks over the last few months, he has consistently conflated leaks that might be a national security issue with leaks that make him look bad. In his mind, there is no difference between leaking the contents of an intercepted phone call with a Russian official and leaking the fact that there is infighting in the White House. Both make him look bad and that is the only standard he cares about in the slightest.
And try this quote on for size: “As a conservative who believes in limited government, I believe the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press.” Guess who said that? Mike Pence did, after introducing the Free Flow of Information Act in response to the jailing of reporter Judith Miller for refusing to reveal who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame.
We have far more to fear from a government with not enough leaking than we do from one with too much. And it isn’t even close.