5 Aug 2017

Four charged in Trump crackdown on leaks

12:36 pm on 5 August 2017

The US attorney general has said four people have been charged over leaks as the Trump administration launched a crackdown on embarrassing disclosures.

Jeff Sessions

US attorney general Jeff Sessions. Photo: AFP

Jeff Sessions said the suspects were accused of divulging classified material or concealed contacts with foreign intelligence officers.

America's top prosecutor said the administration has tripled the number of active leak probes since January.

President Donald Trump has criticised Mr Sessions as "very weak" on leaks.

At Friday's news conference, the attorney general said no government could be effective when its leaders could not talk freely in confidence with foreign leaders.

"I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country," he told reporters.

He said there had been a "dramatic" increase in recent months of unauthorised disclosures to the media and even foreign adversaries.

The attorney general also said he wanted to review policies on media subpoenas - compelling journalists to reveal sources - to balance the role of the press with protecting national security.

The move is likely to send a chill through US newsrooms that have been breaking almost daily scoops, which have embarrassed the White House.

Mr Sessions was joined by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who issued a stark warning to leakers.

"Anyone who engages in these criminal acts is betraying the intelligence community and the American people," he said.

"We feel the pain of those betrayals intensely and I can assure you that I will do everything in my power as director of national intelligence to hold those people accountable.

"Understand this, if you improperly disclose classified information, we will find you, we will investigate you, and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, and you will not be happy with the result."

US President Donald Trump alongside US Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Sessions was sworn in as Attorney General in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, February 9, 2017

President Donald Trump has criticised Jeff Sessions as being "very weak" on leaks. Photo: AFP

Only this week transcripts of rancourous calls between President Trump and foreign leaders surfaced in the Washington Post.

The US leader told Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that the US state of New Hampshire was "a drug-infested den".

On the line to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Trump referred to himself as "the world's greatest person that does not want to let people into the country".

He also complained it was "the most unpleasant call all day".

Mr Sessions did not share details of the four leak arrests.

But in June a 25-year-old National Security Agency contractor, Reality Winner, was arrested for removing classified material from a federal site in the state of Georgia.

The American Civil Liberties Union said "a crackdown on leaks is a crackdown on the free press and on democracy as a whole".

Spokesman Ben Wizner said: "Our founders understood that democracy depends on an informed citizenry, and leaders can't be trusted to disclose vital information that reflects poorly on themselves.

"These first months of the Trump administration dramatically illustrate that point."


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