In a press conference today Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new activities and strategies to combat the number of leaks coming from the Trump administration. It is true that the leaks have been coming from this administration faster than water through a screen door in a submarine. But in their efforts to stop the leaking, their cure may be worse than the disease.
Sessions spoke about leaks that put our national security and people’s lives in danger. So far the only one that might meet that criteria is when Trump gave his Russian visitors in the Oval Office classified information that gravely imperiled an Israeli asset inside ISIS.
It is important to remember that all leaks are not illegal. For example, letting the press know who is having dinner with the President is not necessarily a matter of national security. In fact, most of the information “leaked” to the press is not illegal, but is simply embarrassing – to Donald Trump and members of his administration.
But instead of using duct tape to plug the leaks, Sessions has decided to rip out the plumbing. In a statement that should strike fear into the hearts of most Americans, and one that is certainly designed to strike terror into the hearts of journalists, Sessions announced that:
“I have listened to career investigators and prosecutors about how to most successfully investigate and prosecute these matters. 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”
This is Richard Nixon speaking from the grave. He also had a group established to stop the leaks. They were called the “plumbers” and we all know how well that worked out. There is no “authority” for Sessions or the Department of Justice to “balance their role (of the press) with protecting our national security.” The freedom of the press is enshrined in the first amendment to our Constitution.
“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;”
How much clearer can this be? Certainly, the press is not allowed to publish “false” information, anymore than freedom of speech allows someone to falsely shout “fire in a crowded theater.” That is where our libel laws come in. But the burden of responsibility, legally, has always rested on the person who illegally leaks the information, not on the media who reports it.
This issue was decided years ago when The New York Times and The Washington Post published the so-called “Pentagon Papers.” It appears that the trigger for this statement by Sessions came from the publication earlier this week by the Washington Post of transcriptions of telephone calls between Trump and the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Australia during his earlier days in office.
Yes, there are concerns about publishing these transcriptions. But what Sessions, Trump, and the rest of his supporters fail to realize is that they would not have been published, nor would they even be considered newsworthy had they not shown that Trump FLAT OUT LIED in his own reports of these conversations. The people of the United States have a right to know that about their president.
Threatening the press with increased subpoena power, which would also more than likely lead to jailing reporters who refuse to reveal their sources, is not going to stop the leaks from happening. This will, no doubt, be litigated in the courts, just as most of Trump’s attempts to stomp on the Constitution have been done so far.
In the meantime, if Sessions and the President want to stop the leaks, they need to get their own house in order before going after the press.