The mainstream media has been less than friendly to the Trump administration. But amid rolling leaks out of the White House, the Justice Department’s suggestion that reporters and journalists could find themselves in hot water for publishing leaked material is a danger to the 1st Amendment.
During a Friday press conference, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats announced that the DOJ, along with the FBI and various other government agencies, are diverting resources to more proactively investigate White house leaks.
Sessions told reporters that he has empowered the FBI to aggressively investigate cases involving leaks. A new FBI division, Sessions added, is currently being set up to deal with leak investigations.
“I have this message for our friends in the intelligence community: The Justice Department is open for business,” Sessions said. “And I have this warning for potential leakers: Don’t do it.”
Coats added that the government will stop at nothing to ruin the lives of government leakers.
“If you improperly disclose classified information, we will find you, we will investigate you and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” Coats said. “You will not be happy with the result.”
While current leaks are causing a massive amount of frustration for the Trump administration, it’s worth remembering that government leaks are sometimes very beneficial to the public good.
And when reporters find themselves in possession of leaked material the public needs to know about, we certainly don’t want them fearful of informing.
There’s no better way to make journalists fearful of doing their jobs that suggesting that publishing certain material could put them at odds with vital national security interests– essentially making them enemies of the state. Unfortunately, Sessions remarks Friday suggest that is the strategy the Trump administration intends to use moving forward. When something is leaked that it doesn’t like, it’ll use “national security” as an excuse to go after everyone involved.
“We respect the important role the press plays and we’ll give them respect, but it’s not unlimited,” Sessions said. “They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance the press’ role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in the intelligence community, the Armed Forces and all law-abiding Americans.”
Sessions and the Trump administration really ought to leave journalists out of it. If they have a leak problem, it’s because they have failed to purge the government of people working to undermine the administration agenda. In the White House, “the buck stops here.”
Sure the petty sort of leaks coming out of the Trump administration are irritating and distracting. But if you’re a conservative, try to remember how you felt about President Barack Obama’s attempts to target whistle-blowers and leakers. Whether you support them or not, you should always want the nation’s most powerful people at risk of constant exposure.
We keep talking about Sessions wanting to take the U.S. back to the 1980’s via a redux of awful drug policies– but the way things are going, perhaps we ought to be talking about the 1790’s and the Alien and Sedition Acts getting a modern makeover.