Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Sunday anyone responsible for leaking classified information could face federal prosecution — including people in the White House and members of Congress.
Asked on “Fox News Sunday” about the possibility, Rosenstein said the Justice Department would go after “anybody who breaks the law.”
“We’re going to devote more resources, re-evaluate our procedures and make sure we investigate every one of those leaks,” Rosenstein said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday announced a spate of Justice Department actions to go after leaks of classified information. Among the moves Sessions announced was a Justice Department review of media subpoena rules.
The Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015 revised the rules restricting when the department could subpoena a member of the press as part of an investigation. The decision came after years of criticism of law enforcement targeting journalists.
The review Sessions announced could open the door to removing those protections from subpoenaing reporters. Rosenstein, in the interview Sunday, said the review could also leave the policy entirely in place.
“Attorney General Holder revised that in 2015,” Rosenstein said. “It’s possible he got it exactly right, but maybe he didn’t.”
Rosenstein said the goal of the moves Sessions announced on Friday was to fight leaks, not to interfere with the work of the news media.
“We’re after leakers, not journalists,” Rosenstein said.
The deputy attorney general maintained that the department would not generally pursue the criminal prosecution of reporters for publishing information that someone had leaked to them.
“Generally speaking, reporters who publish information are not committing a crime,” Rosenstein said. “There might be a circumstance where they do. You know, I’ve not seen any of those to date, but I wouldn’t rule it out”
CNN reported in April that the Justice Department was preparing to seek the arrest of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which has published extensive volumes of classified information for years.
An increase in leaks
President Donald Trump has railed against leaks coming from the government, and he praised Sessions’ announcement in a tweet on Saturday.
While Rosenstein would not say just how many leaks the department was looking at, he did say there was an overall increase.
And former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that there were more leaks in the opening months of the Trump administration than at any other time he could remember.
“The leaks right now are really bad,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen it this bad.”
While Johnson said there should be a concerted effort to go after the leakers, he also floated a note of caution to Sessions, saying the Justice Department should be careful about what precedent its actions might set in court.
“So before you decide to take on journalists, reporters and, perhaps, subpoena their sources, be aware that the courts are going to get involved, and that has the potential for making bad law in this area,” Johnson said.
By Eli Watkins, CNN