Sessions threatens to clamp down on First Amendment press freedoms: ‘It is not unlimited’

Gage Skidmore / Flickr jeff sessions...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Donald Trump doesn’t like the unflattering press coverage he is getting, and now his attorney general is doing what Trump has repeatedly urged him to do: Target the leaks. But Sessions’ focus isn’t just on the leakers, it involves a review of whether the Justice Department will subpoena news organizations in pursuit of those leakers.

“We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” he said at a Friday press conference where he also refused to take questions. “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.”

Just to be clear, leaking classified information can be prosecutable, but the vast majority of the leaks that really tweak Trump aren’t about sensitive material, they’re about dysfunctional warring factions of the White House and many of them spring from within his own ranks in the West Wing.

But Sessions comments were particularly notable for their emphasis on curtailing what journalists can and can’t do. Compelling reporters to testify about their sources—or attempting to compel them—would absolutely have a chilling effect on the Freedom of the Press. Courts have typically viewed journalists as protected by the First Amendment in the course of doing their jobs even when they publish sensitive information (though journalists have sometimes gone to jail to protect their sources). It’s the leakers of such information who put themselves in legal jeopardy.

Naturally, Trump’s stellar leadership has led to what Sessions described as an explosion of leaks.

Complaints of leaks to the Justice Department have “exploded” in the last six months, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday at a news conference discussing what the department calls “leaks of classified material threatening national security.” The department has received the same number of complaints over that time as in the previous three years.

“We are taking a stand, this culture of leaking must stop,” Sessions said at the Justice Department, saying leakers will be held accountable for the behavior that undermines the president and intelligence community.

Sessions invited leak referrals from the intelligence community, saying, “The Department of Justice is open for business, and I have this warning for would-be leakers: Don’t do it.” He added that leak investigations have tripled under the Trump administration.

Perhaps if Trump inspired a little more confidence and loyalty among the people serving in the federal government, there wouldn’t be such an epidemic of leaks.

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