"This culture of leaking must stop," Sessions says, threatening media subpoenas

Last Updated Aug 4, 2017 1:31 PM EDT

Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to pursue and prosecute anyone who leaks sensitive government information, and consider subpoenaing members of the media who publish those leaks, in a briefing at the Justice Department Friday morning.

The briefing about ongoing ongoing leak investigations Friday came a day after the Washington Post first published leaked leaked transcripts of President Trump's January phone calls with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Sessions condemned those leaks as dangerous to national security, and noted the number of unauthorized leaks has "exploded" under the Trump administration. Mr. Trump in recent days has called Sessions "very weak" on prosecuting leakers, in Twitter tirades.

"We are taking a stand. This culture of leaking must stop," Sessions said in the briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

The Justice Department has more than tripled the number of active leak investigations compared to the number pending at the end of the Obama administration and the National Security Agency and U.S. Attorneys Offices have been directed to prioritize cases involving unauthorized disclosures, Sessions said.

"We will investigate and seek to bring criminals to justice," Sessions said. "We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country any longer."

But leakers aren't the only ones who will come in the crosshairs of the federal government. Sessions also said the Justice Department is reviewing its policy related to subpoenaing the media when leaks are published. Members of the media, "cannot place lives at risk with impunity," Sessions said. The Trump administration -- which regularly derides the "fake news" media -- has already suggested stepping up legal recourse against the media for publishing "fake" or leaked news.

"I have listened to career investigators and prosecutors about how to most successfully investigate and prosecute these matters," Sessions said. "At their suggestion, 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. 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."

But Sessions -- despite suggesting the Justice Department may pursue media outlets with legal action -- took no questions from the press after he had concluded his remarks, leaving frustrated reporters with unanswered questions. 

Coats had similarly tough language for leakers and anyone else involved in the process.

"For those out there who may be listening or watching these announcements ... if you improperly disclose classified information, we will find you," Coats said. "We will investigate you. We will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law, and you will not be happy with the result."

Here were the live updates from the 11 a.m. ET news conference:


Coats to leakers: "We will find you"

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats had a clear message for any leakers. Coats even suggested some of the leaks had come from Congress.

"For those out there who may be listening or watching these announcements ... if you improperly disclose classified information, we will find you," Coats said. "We will investigate you. We will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law, and you will not be happy with the result."

Sessions wants to step up subpoenas against the media 

Sessions said the Justice Department respects the media, but that respect is not "unlimited." Sessions said the DOJ will pursue subpoenas for media outlets that publish leaked information. 

"I have listened to career investigators and prosecutors about how to most successfully investigate and prosecute these matters," Sessions said in his prepared remarks. "At their suggestion, 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. 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: "This culture of leaking must stop"

Sessions made it clear the DOJ will not tolerate leaking from within any part of government.

"This culture of leaking must stop," Sessions said. 

Anyone who is considering leaking something should not, he said. 

"The Department of Justice is open for business."

Leaks have "exploded" during Trump administration: Sessions 

Sessions began his press conference mentioning the leaked phone calls, describing how much that hurts the national security of the United States when the president cannot have sensitive conversations with foreign leaders without worrying about leaks. 

"No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence..." Sessions said.

Sessions claimed the number of leaks of classified information in the first six months of the Trump administration have "exploded."

"Simply put, these leaks hurt our country," Sessions said. 

Sessions said the "culture" of leaking "must stop."